Skip to main content

Full text of "Underworld The Mysterious Origins Of Civilization by Graham Hancock"

See other formats


"Hancock challenges orthodox history with extraordinary theories of a vanished early 
civilization destroyed by a cataclysm—His sweep through the ancient world is arresting 
' ' ‘ " —Daily Mail (London) 


and audacious.’ 






^ tt 


1 ~ . 


«•* C. 

»: -• r'- 

■*- ; ' 
v -i- 





By the Same Author 

The Sign and the Seal 
Fingerprints of the Gods 
Keeper of Genesis (coauthor) 
The Mars Mystery (coauthor) 
Heaven’s Mirrior 


www.grahamhancock.com 


UNDERWORLD 

The Mysterious Origins 
of Civilization 


Graham Hancock 

Photographs by SANTHA FaILA 




For Santha ... for being there. Again 
With all my love. 



Contents 


Acknowledgements 

PART ONE 

Initiation 

1 / Relics 

2 / The Riddle of the Antediluvian Cities 

3 / Meltdown 

PART TWO 

India (1) 

4 / Forgotten Cities, Ancient Texts and an Indian Atlantis 

5 / Pilgrimage to India 
6 / The Place of the Ship’s Descent 

7 / Lost India 

8 / The Demon on the Mountain and the Rebirth of Civilization 

PART THREE 

India (2) 

9 / Fairytale Kingdom 
10 / The Mystery of the Red Hill 
11/ The Quest for Kumari Kandam 
12 / The Hidden Years 
13 / Pyramid Islands 
14 / Ghosts in the Water 

PART FOUR 

Malta 

15 / Smoke and Fire in Malta 
16 / Cave of Bones 
17 / The Thorn in the Flesh 
18 / The Masque of the Green Book 

19 / Inundation 
20 / The Morning of the World 


PART FIVE 


Ancient Maps 
21 / Terra Incognita 
22 / The Secret Memories of Maps 
23 / Looking for the Lost on the Road to Nowhere 

24 / The Metamorphoses of Antilia 

PART SIX 

Japan, Taiwan, China 

25 / The Land Beloved of the Gods 

26 / Remembrance 
27 / Confronting Yonaguni 
28 / Maps of Japan and Taiwan 13,000 Years Ago? 

29 / Confronting Kerama 
30 / The Shark at the Gate 

Postscript 1 / The Underworld in the Gulf of Cambay 

Postscript 2 / The Underworld in the Bay of Bengal 

Appendix 1 / Report on the Completion of the Joint SES/NIO Expedition to South-east 

India 

Appendix 2 / SES Press Release, 5 April 2002, Announcing the Discovery of Underwater 
Ruins at Mahabalipuram and Inviting Media to a Press Reception, 10 April 2002 

Appendix 3 / Preliminary Underwater Archaeological Explorations of Mahabalipuram. 

Statement by National Institute of Oceanography, 9 April 2002 

Appendix 4 / Comments by Graham Hancock on the NIO Statement of 9 April 2002 
Regarding Preliminary Underwater Archaeological Explorations off Mahabalipuram 

Appendix 5 / Who Discovered the Underwater Ruins at Mahabalipuram? And Who is 

Claiming What? 

Appendix 6 / UK Press Coverage of Mahabalipuram Discovery, April 2002 
Appendix 7 / Press Report on Paulina Zelitsky’s Exploration in Cuba 
Appendix 8 / Press Report from Times of India, 6 July 2002 

Online Appendices and Photographs 

Notes 


Acknowledgements 


Underworld has been a huge, all-consuming quest spread out over a period of almost five years. I can only thank 
here a small number of the very many people who have contributed to it in one way or another. 

First and foremost, thanks to my wife Santha, who travelled every step of the journey with me, took all the 
risks side by side with me, did every dive with me, faced up to every challenge with me and lived and breathed 
Underworld for five years just as I have done. Of course, all the photos in the book are Santha’s but there has only 
been space here to reproduce a tiny fraction of them. Many more of her wonderful pictures from our adventures 
appear on the section of my website http://www.grahamhancock.com that is dedicated to Underworld. 

Special thanks to Sharif Sakr, my brilliant researcher, who joined me straight out of Oxford University in the 
summer of 2000 when the writing phase of the book was just beginning. Sharif is, in every sense, exactly what a 
great researcher should be - an original thinker and an individualistic self-starter with huge intelligence, 
boundless energy and limitless initiative who never needs to be told what to do but who always just gets on and 
does it. Sharif s contribution to the strengths of Underworld has been enormous. 

Thanks also to John Grigsby, my researcher for some years before Sharif joined me, and to Shanti Faiia for her 
excellent work on researching, planning and coordinating many of the diagrams in the book. Thanks to Sean 
Hancock for researching Ice Age chronologies and chasing rumours of underwater ruins for us at Pohnpei and 
Kosrae. Thanks to Leila Hancock for her research on the nature and attributes of Siva. Thanks to Shakira 
Bagwandeen for research notes on various issues of Indian religion and prehistory. 

Dr Glenn Milne of Durham University’s Department of Geology played a crucial role in generously providing all 
the inundation maps used in Underworld. Glenn’s kindness in supplying these maps should not be taken as any 
sort of endorsement on his part of the broader theories and ideas presented here - which are entirely my own 
responsibility. 

Thanks to Ashraf Bechai for showing us the mysterious underwater megalithic sites off Alexandria, particularly 
the gigantic blocks of Sidi Gaber, which orthodox archaeology has not yet come to terms with. 

In what I have to say about Malta I drew heavily on the remarkable research of Dr Anton Mifsud and want to 
express my thanks to him for allowing me to report his findings so extensively here. If, as I believe to be the case, 
an entirely new chapter in the prehistory of Malta is about to open, then it is due to Anton’s tireless search for the 
truth and the far-reaching investigation that he continues to conduct into the Maltese past. Thanks also to Anton’s 
co-authors on his various books - Charles Savona Ventura, Simon Mifsud and Chris Agius Sultana. 

In India I owe a debt of gratitude to all at the Archaeological Division of the National Institute of Oceanography 
(NIO), in particular to Kamlesh Vora, Sundaresh and Dr A. S. Gaur. Special thanks, too, to Dr Ehrlich Desa, head 
of the NIO, who did so much to clear the way for our dives at Dwarka and Poompuhur and showed such good 
will and kindness towards us when Santha and I first turned up at the NIO’s headquarters in Donna Paula, Goa. 

Thanks also to India’s National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT), whose ground-breaking discoveries in 
the Gulf of Cambay are reported for the first time in this book. I mention in particular Dr S. Kathiroli, Project 
Director of the NIOT, Dr S. Badrinaryan, Geological Consultant to the NIOT, and G. Janaki Raman, Manager, 
Vessel Management Cell. 

So many good people have helped us in Japan over the years that it is simply impossible to mention all of them 



here. I hope those whose names are left out will forgive me. Special mention must be made of our friend Shun 
Daichi, the Japanese translator of my books who accompanied me and Santha on our journeys in Japan - both 
above and below the water. Thanks too to Seamen’s Club, Ishigaki, and to the staff and management there whose 
help made all our diving adventures in Japan possible. Outside Seamen’s Club, Kiyoshi Nagaki, Isamu Tsukahara, 
Kihachiro Aratake, Yohachiro Yoshimaru, Mitsutoshi Taniguchi and Kuzanori Kawai all also dived with us and 
helped us in our underwater investigations. 

Last but not least, Santha and I want to thank our children Ravi Faiia, Shanti Faiia, Sean Hancock, Leila 
Hancock, Luke Hancock and Gabrielle Hancock for putting up with our preoccupations and prolonged absences 
from home. All the children have played their own parts in the quest, have learned to dive and have joined us for 
some of our diving adventures. We’re proud and happy to have such a bright and enterprising group of young 
people around us. 

Graham Hancock, 
London, January 2002 



PART ONE 


Initiation 



1 / Relics 


If you do not expect it, you will not find the unexpected, for it is hard to find and difficult. 

Heraclitus 

Five kilometres off the south-east coast of India, submerged at a depth of 23 metres 
beneath the murky, shark-infested waters of the Bay of Bengal, an ancient man-made 
structure sits on the bottom of the sea. The structure is U-shaped, like a huge horseshoe; 
its periphery measures 85 metres and its walls are about 1 metre thick and 2 metres 

high. 1 

The discovery was made by a team of marine archaeologists from India’s National 
Institute of Oceanography (NIO) in March 1991, working off-shore of the Tranquebar- 
Poompuhur coast of Tamil Nadu near Nagapattinam. Their equipment included side- 
scan sonar, which transmits an acoustic signal up to 1000 metres wide and measures the 
strength of the returning echo. Towed behind a research vessel, side-scan sonar is 
capable of building accurate maps of sea-bed contours and of identifying any obvious 
anomalies such as shipwrecks. 

On 7 March 1991 a shipwreck at a depth of 19 metres was pinpointed by the sonar. It 
was investigated by divers on 8 and 9 March, who found many scattered objects 
including lead ingots and iron cannon on the surrounding sea-bed. The official report of 
the project then states: 

Till 1.00 p.m. [on 9 March] the divers were working on the scattered objects. T. C. S. Rao who was carrying out 
sonar survey 5 km opposite Chinnavanagiri [not far from the wreck] reported another object 40 x 10 metres 
having the shape of a ship [?] recorded on sonograph. Shri Bandodkar was sent to the site (designated PMR2) and 
he placed two marker buoys there. By 2.00 p.m. Manavi and Chinni dived but as the buoys had drifted the object 
could not be explored." 

A second side-scan sonar survey later in the afternoon refined the measurements, 
suggesting that the object was oval and measured ‘30-35 metres east to west and 10 

metres north to south with an apparent opening in one side’. 3 

On 16 and 19 March T. C. S. Rao continued the survey and now reported: 

There are actually three objects, the central one being oval-shaped with an opening on the northern side. Its longer 
axis is 20 metres. There is a clay deposit on the eastern flank beyond which another semi-circular structure is seen. 

To the north-west of the central object one or more oval-shaped objects are found. 4 

Finally on 23 March 1991 three divers were able to go down but only had sufficient 
air to study the central structure. The official report describes what they saw as follows: 

a horseshoe-shaped object, its height being one to two metres. A few stone blocks were found in the one-metre-wide 
arm. The distance between the two arms is 20 metres. Whether the object is a shrine or some other man-made 
structure now at 23 metres depth remains to be examined in the next field season ... 5 


Deep can mean very old 


In the event no work could be done at the site in the next season, but in 1993 the 
structure was examined again by the NIO’s diver archaeologists, who took careful 
measurements and eventually reported their findings as follows: 

The structure of U-shape was located at a water depth of 23 metres which is about 5 kilometres off shore. The total 
peripheral length of the object is 85 metres while the distance between the two arms is 13 metres and the 
maximum height is 2 metres. The height of the eastern arm is greater than that of the western arm. The centre of 
the object is covered with sediment but some patches of rock were noticed. Hand fanning showed that the central 
part of the object is rocky at a depth of 10-15 centimetres. Divers observed growth of thick marine organism on the 
structure, but in some sections a few courses of masonry were noted. 6 

Since 1993, for want of funding, no further marine archaeology has been conducted 
along the Poompuhur coast and the general impression has been disseminated in 
archaeological literature that the NIO has not found any submerged structures there that 

are older than the third century bc. This is certainly true of numerous structures that 
were excavated very near to the shore, usually in depths of less than 2 metres of water 

and often half-exposed at low tide. But the U-shaped structure at 23 metres - more than 
70 feet - is another matter altogether and cannot by any means be automatically 
assigned to the third century bc. On the contrary, since we know that the sea-level has 

been continuously rising during the last 19,000 years, 9 common sense suggests that 
structures now submerged by 23 metres of water must be much older than structures in 
just 2 metres. 


'Nobody has looked 

In February 2000 I travelled to Bangalore to the home of the doyen of India’s marine 
archaeologists, S. R. Rao, founder of the Marine Archaeology Centre at the NIO and the 
man who had led the Tranquebar-Poompuhur survey. Rao is a distinguished, lean-faced 
man in his mid-seventies, with boundless energy and enthusiasm for his subject. After 
the pleasantries were over I told him that I was intrigued by the U-shaped structure his 
team had found at Poompuhur: ‘Twenty-three metres is deep. Doesn’t that mean that it 
could be very old?’ 

‘Correct, definitely,’ Rao replied. ‘That is what we are also thinking. In fact we took 
our ocean engineer also to see whether the structure had gone down as a result of 
erosion by the sea or by its own weight. I don’t think that is the case, because it is a 
huge structure which has been built at that depth - at that time the sea was further out. 
This was built when it was above water. Then does the sea rise so much within such a 
short period was the question - 23 metres just within 2000 years or so?’ 

‘Maybe the sea-level rise that covered this structure took place a lot earlier than that,’ 
I offered. ‘Maybe it belongs to a much earlier period than the 2000-year-old ruins of 


Poompuhur up in the intertidal zone? There have been sea-level rises that could have 
done something like this but they took place a long time ago - at the end of the Ice Age.’ 

‘Correct. At that time it happened. You are correct.’ 

‘There were three large floods at the end of the Ice Age - and even the most recent of 
these takes us back 8000 years. Is that a possible date for the U-shaped structure?’ 

‘We don’t know,’ Rao replied, ‘because you see from whatever we have got we are not 
able to decide its date at all.’ 

‘Why is that?’ 

‘Because amongst the samples we took we found no organic materials that could be 
dated by carbon 14 and no pottery that could be dated by thermo-luminescence or by 
type. We have only stone which cannot be dated in any meaningful sense.’ 

‘Except by one factor - which is that the structure is now under 23 metres of water. So 
the sea-level rise itself can be helpful in indicating a date.’ 

‘Correct. I do know that for the Gulf of Kutch in north-western India an oceanographic 
study has been made and the oceanographers themselves have said that at 10,000 bc the 
sea-level was 60 metres lower than it is today. If that is true there it is also true here.’ 

‘Which raises the possibility that we may be looking at remnants of a previously 
unknown ancient culture ... ’ 

‘Ancient. Definitely!’ Rao exclaimed. ‘And, in fact, where really was the origin of 
India’s earliest-known civilization - the Indus Valley civilization? Scholars guess, but 
nobody knows. The Indus Valley script itself is already a highly developed script when it 
first appears in the third millennium bc. The early architecture is already developed - 
you have got brick structures, you have got drains, everything is planned and all that - 
so there must be something before that. Where is the evolutionary phase? We don’t 
know.’ 

Dr Rao was getting close to the real reason that I had come to see him. ‘Maybe the 
evidence of the evolutionary phase is underwater?’ I suggested. 

‘It’s underwater. Quite possible.’ 

‘If so, then this underwater structure at Poompuhur could be incredibly important - 
simply because of its depth ...’ 

‘Twenty-three metres ...’ 

‘Twenty-three metres. That’s right. Now if we can rule out land subsidence, and 
further work must be done before we can rule that out, but if we can rule that out and if 
it’s an issue exclusively of sea-level rise, then we have a discovery here that calls into 
question the accepted chronology of civilization.’ 

Rao pondered for a moment before replying: ‘You see, some people, some traditions, 
do say that there was a continent in the Indian Ocean, a very long time ago, more than 
10,000 years ago, that got submerged ... Quite possible. You see, we are not doing 
thorough research. If we had taken more time and more funds and all that, perhaps we 



could find many more structures, not only that one, and then you could come to some 
kind of conclusion about the much earlier epoch.’ 

I told Rao that I was familiar with the south Indian traditions to which he was 
referring. These describe extensive lands, submerged about 11,000 years ago, that had 
once existed in the Indian Ocean to the south of the present Cape Comorin. The name of 
these lost lands was Kumari Kandam. At the time of their inundation, the traditions say, 
they had been the home of a high civilization that had even boasted an ‘Academy’ of 
advanced learning where philosophy and literature were cultivated. 

‘It must have existed,’ Rao asserted. ‘You can’t rule that out at all. Particularly, as I 
have said, since we have found this structure at 23 metre depth. I mean, we have 
photographed it. It is there, anybody can go and see. I do not believe that it is an 
isolated structure; further exploration is likely to reveal others round about. And then 
you can go deeper, you see, and you may get more important things.’ 

I asked if there had been any further attempt since 1993 to find underwater structures 
off southern India. 

‘No,’ Rao replied. ‘Nobody has looked.’ 


Ken Shindo’s story 

In 1996, four years before my meeting with Rao, my book Fingerprints of the Gods 
became the number-one bestseller in Japan, a country that had fascinated me since 
childhood. The book’s success gave me my first opportunity to travel there. 

I visited Japan twice that year to give a series of public lectures about the issues I’d 
explored in Fingerprints of the Gods. On the second visit I was approached after a lecture 
by a photojournalist named Ken Shindo, who works for the influential Kyodo-Tsushin 
News Agency. He showed me striking under water pictures that he had taken of a 
bizarre terraced structure, apparently a man-made monument of some kind, lying at 
depths of up to 30 metres off the south coast of the Japanese island of Yonaguni. My 
central research and writing interest, for years, has been the possibility of a lost 
civilization destroyed in the cataclysmic global floods that brought the last Ice Age to an 
end. So I was immediately fascinated by Shindo’s story: ‘An underwater ruin here in 
Japan!’ I exclaimed. ‘Is it definitely man-made?’ 

Shindo laughed: ‘Some people say it’s a freak of nature but they haven’t spent time on 
it like I have. I’m absolutely certain it’s man-made.’ 

‘Does anyone know how old it is?’ 

Shindo told me that he had been working with Professor Masaaki Kimura, a marine 
seismologist at the University of the Rykyus (Okinawa), who had been studying 
Yonaguni’s mysterious underwater structure since 1994. Kimura too was convinced it 
was man-made. His extensive survey, sampling and measurement had shown that it had 
been hewn out of solid bedrock when the site was still above water. If sea-level rise 



were the only factor to take into account, then provisional calculations would indicate a 
date of inundation of around 10,000 years ago. 

That’s approximately 5000 years older than the oldest known monumental buildings 
on earth - the ziggurats of ancient Sumer in Mesopotamia. 


Davy Jones’ Locker 

I knew that I had to learn to dive and talked my wife Santha into doing lessons with me 
when we were on a visit to Los Angeles. We took our PADI Open-Water courses in the 
chill, kelpy waters off Catalina Island in November 1996. 

My first reaction to diving was that it was a weird and scary experience, contrary to 
the laws of nature, and that I was unlikely to survive it. I was wrapped up like the 
Michelin Man in a full-body neoprene wetsuit, and there seemed to be a ludicrous 
amount of equipment strapped, velcroed or clipped on to me. 

Let’s start at the feet. Here the diver wears short rubber boots tucked inside the ankle- 
cuffs of his wetsuit. The wetsuit works by taking in a thin layer of water between the 
skin and the suit; this is rapidly warmed to body temperature and remains warm for 
some time because the neoprene of the suit is an excellent insulator. Over the boots are 
strapped the diver’s fins, without which he would be almost as clumsy and immobile 
submerged as he is on land with all his gear on, and would unnecessarily waste a great 
deal of energy thrashing about. Strapped to his calf there should be a strong stainless- 
steel knife with a sharp blade - this can be life-saving if you get caught up in a drifting 
fishing net or some other equally uncompromising, usually man-made, hazard. 

Around the diver’s waist is a belt through which are threaded a number of lead 
weights to compensate for the natural buoyancy of the body and the additional 
buoyancy of the wetsuit. These days I can often get away with 2 kilos, but inexperienced 
divers need a lot more. On my first dives back in 1996 and into the first half of 1997, I 
remember having to use 12 and in one case even 14 kilos - a horrendous load. 

Moving on up the body, the next item of equipment the diver wears is a partially 
inflatable sleeveless jacket called a Buoyancy Control Device - ‘BCD’, or just ‘BC’ for 
short. The scuba tank which provides the diver with air to breathe underwater is 
strapped on to the back of the BC and typically comes in 10, 12 and 15 litre sizes. A 
mid-sized tank weighs more than 15 kilos and for most dives is filled with nothing other 
than normal air under enormous compression. This is delivered to the diver through two 
transformers which step down the pressure of the air to a level where it can be breathed 
easily. The ‘first-stage’ is mounted immediately on top of the tank and removes most of 
the pressure, from here a rubber hose leads to the ‘second-stage’, or ‘regulator’, which is 
placed in the diver’s mouth and provides air on demand. Three other rubber hoses also 
emerge from the first-stage. One of these connects to the BC, allowing the diver to 
power-inflate it direct from the tank. One leads to a dangling instrument-console usually 
containing a compass and gauges that tell you how much air you have left and how 



deep you are. The last, called the ‘octopus’, is a spare second-stage for use in 
emergencies - for example to provide air to another diver whose own tank is empty. 

Sometimes divers wear a rubber hood, since heat loss from the unprotected head is 
very rapid. A glass-fronted mask, without which the human eye can only perceive 
blurred images under water, covers the eyes and nose. The final major pieces of 
equipment are a small wrist computer, which can save your life by warning you if you 
are ascending too fast from depth, and a pair of gloves to keep your hands warm and 
prevent grazing or accidental contact with unpleasant marine organisms like fire coral. 

Wrapped up in all this stuff, with our total scuba experience at that time amounting 
to just three half-hour swimming-pool dives each, Santha and I contemplated the waters 
of the Pacific with certain misgivings. To be honest, we were afraid. It looked deep and 
dark and dangerous down there, down amongst the waving streamers of kelp, down in 
Davy Jones’ Locker ... But if we wanted to see that incredible underwater structure in 
Japan for ourselves then we were going to have to do this. On our instructor’s command 
we jumped in and paddled out from shore. 

Four days later we were licensed but definitely not yet experienced enough to dive at 
Yonaguni. 


A generous offer 

I did not know when we would be able to organize a diving trip to Japan but knew only 
that it would be expensive. Then a strange synchronicity occurred. Out of the blue some 
time in January 1997 I received a fax from an American company representing a 
Japanese businessman. The fax said that the business man had read Fingerprints of the 
Gods and would like to invite Santha and me to fly first-class to Yonaguni at his expense 
to explore the island and to dive at the monument. He would ensure our safety by 
sending a group of top-flight diving instructors with us from the Seamen’s Club, a hotel 
and dive school on the neighbouring island of Ishigaki. He would also provide us with a 
fully equipped dive boat and all other facilities. 

There were no strings attached to this generous offer, which we accepted. In March 
1997 we flew from London to Tokyo and then via Okinawa to Yonaguni to do our first 
dives there. This was the beginning of a long-term friendship with the businessman 
(whose privacy I protect) and of what began as an informal project to explore, 
document and try to understand the sequence of ancient and highly anomalous 
structures that have been found underwater at Yonaguni and at other islands in south¬ 
west Japan. 


Yonaguni 

The first anomalous structure that was discovered at Yonaguni lies below glowering 
cliffs of the southern shore of the island. Local divers call it Iseki Point (‘Monument 



Point’). Into its south face, at a depth of about 18 metres, an area of terracing with 
conspicuous flat planes and right-angles has been cut. Two huge parallel blocks 
weighing approximately 30 tonnes each and separated by a gap of less than 10 
centimetres, have been placed upright side by side at its north-west corner. In about 5 
metres of water at the very top of the structure there is a kidney-shaped ‘pool’ and near 
by is a feature that many divers believe is a crude rock-carved image of a turtle. At the 
base of the monument, in 27 metres of water, there is a clearly defined stone-paved 
path oriented towards the east. 

If the diver follows this path - a relatively easy task, since there is often a strong 
west-to-east current here - he will come in a few hundred metres to ‘the megalith’, a 
rounded, 2 tonne boulder that seems to have been purposely placed on a carved ledge at 

the centre of a huge stone platform. 10 

Two kilometres west of Iseki Point is the ‘Palace’. Here an underwater passageway 
leads into the northern end of a spacious chamber with megalithic walls and ceiling. At 
the southern end of the chamber a tall, lintelled doorway leads into a second smaller 
chamber beyond. At the end of that chamber is a vertical, rock-hewn shaft that emerges 
outside on the roof of the ‘Palace’. Near by a flat rock bears a pattern of strange, deep 
grooves. A little further east there is a second megalithic passage roofed by a gigantic 
slab that fits snugly against the tops of the supporting walls. 

Two kilometres to the east of Iseki Point is Tategami Iwa, literally ‘The Standing God 
Stone’, a natural pinnacle of rugged black rock that soars up out of the ocean. At its 
base, 18 metres underwater, there is a horizontal tunnel, barely wide enough to fit a 
diver, that runs perfectly straight west to east and emerges amidst a scatter of large 
blocks with clean-cut edges. 

A three-minute swim to the south-east brings the diver to what looks like an extensive 
ceremonial complex carved out of stone. Here at depths of 15 to 25 metres there are 
massive rectilinear structures with sheer walls separated by wide avenues. 

At the centre is the monument that local divers refer to as ‘the stone stage’. Into its 
south-facing corner either man or nature has carved an image that looks to some like a 
gigantic anthropoid face with two clearly marked eyes ... 


Kerama 

At Aka Island in the Kerama group 40 kilometres west of Okinawa, local divers have 
been aware for some years of the existence of a series of underwater stone circles at 
depths of 30 metres. There are also associated rectilinear formations within the same 
general area that show some signs of having been cut and worked by human beings. 

Diving conditions at Kerama are atrociously difficult (as indeed they often are at 
Yonaguni too). There is a killer current, but this drops away almost to nothing for 
approximately an hour between tides. Only in that lull is it possible to get any serious 
work done and to gain a perspective on the enigmatic structures without constantly 


having to fight against the sea. 

Kerama’s most spectacular feature is ‘Centre Circle’, which has a diameter of 
approximately 20 metres and a maximum depth of 27 metres. Here concentric rings of 
upright megaliths more than 3 metres tall have been hewn out of the bedrock 
surrounding a central menhir. 

A second, similar circle, called ‘Small Centre Circle’ by local divers, stands 
immediately to the north-east. It is not noticeably smaller than the first. 

A little to the south is ‘Stone Circle’, which is made up of much smaller, rounded 
stones. It has a huge diameter of about 150 metres. Within it are subsidiary stone circles 
sometimes touching one another at their edges like the links of a chain. 


Aguni 

Aguni Island, 60 kilometres north of Kerama, has steep and forbidding cliffs. On the 
south-west side of the island these cliffs overlook an area of turbulent water that local 
fishermen call the ‘washing machine’. The turbulence is caused by the presence of a sea¬ 
mount that ascends from much greater depths to form a small plateau only 4 metres 
under the surface. This plateau, perpetually swept by strong currents, contains a series 
of circular holes that look initially like well-shafts. 

As they are lined with small blocks, there is little doubt that these shafts are man¬ 
made. The largest and deepest has a diameter of 3 metres and reaches a maximum depth 
(below the summit of the sea-mount) of about 10 metres. Others are typically 2 to 3 
metres in diameter with a depth of less than 7 metres. A few are narrower and 
shallower. One has a small subsidiary chamber cut sideways into the wall of the main 
shaft. 


Chatan 

The coastline around Okinawa has been the subject of intensive development during the 
past half-century. Thirty kilometres north of the capital Naha, on the west coast of the 
island, is the popular resort area of Chatan. Here, less than a kilometre off-shore, at 
depths of between 10 and 30 metres, is strewn a looming underwater fantasia of ‘walls’ 
and ‘battlements’ and ‘step pyramids’. Are these weird submerged structures natural or 
man-made? And if they are man-made then when, and by whom? 

One possibility suggested to me by local fishermen is that the ‘structures’ could be 
artefacts of relatively recent military dredging. Certainly, several large US Air Force 
bases are located very close to Chatan and the site is constantly overflown by all kinds 
of American warplanes doing manoeuvres. I still remain open to the possibility that 
dredging could have produced some of the features to be seen underwater, but against 
this I have received a report from Akira Suzuki, a Japanese historical researcher, who 
has carefully investigated both US and Japanese archives in Okinawa and has been 



unable to find any record of such operations in this area. 11 

The most striking of the Chatan structures is a wall with its base on the sandy bottom 
at a depth of 30 metres. It rises to a ‘battlement’ with a sunken ‘walkway’ about 10 
metres above the sea-bed. At a certain point the walkway is broken by a vertical U- 
shaped shaft cut through the entire height of the wall. 

To dive at Chatan is to be reminded of an episode in the Nihongi, one of Japan’s most 
ancient texts, a chronicle of the earliest times. Here, in a long introductory section 
entitled ‘The Age of the Gods’, there is a passage that describes how a deity named Ho- 
ho-demi no Mikoto climbed into an upended waterproof basket and descended to the 
bottom of the sea. In this makeshift submarine ‘he found himself at a pleasant strand ... 
proceeding on his way he suddenly arrived at the palace of the Sea-God. This palace was 
provided with battlements and turrets and had stately towers.’ 

No doubt the many curious things that the Nihongi has to say about the Age of the 
Gods may all be explained as mythology and imagination. Still, I find it curious in 
Japan, where there are so many underwater ‘anomalies’, that such a venerable ancient 
text contains a clear tradition of submerged structures that can only be visited by divers. 


15,000 years 

Between 1996 and 2000, while I increased my practical diving experience of Japan’s 
underwater ruins, I several times got caught up in the virulent debate about their 
provenance. Some scholars and journalists think they are entirely natural or ‘mostly 
natural’ (Robert Schoch of Boston University, for example). Others, such as Professor 
Kimura and Professor Teruaki Ishii of Tokyo University, remain convinced that they are 
man-made but are uncertain as to their antiquity (in addition to sea-level rise, complex 
factors such as possible land subsidence - through volcanism, plastic flow or isostatic 
rebound - must be taken into account when determining the date of submergence of any 

given site). 12 No early resolution of this debate can be expected, since we are dealing 
here as much with matters of opinion as with matters of generally agreed fact. Those 
who think the structures are natural are likely to go on thinking so no matter what the 
other side says - and vice-versa. It looks like a stalemate. 

Yet there is a potentially fruitful line of inquiry, capable of shedding light on this 
problem, which neither side has yet considered. Whether they were flooded by rising 
sea-levels or because of some form of land subsidence into the sea (quite possible in an 
area of great seismic instability like Japan) all the underwater ruins were above water 
at some point between 17,000 years ago (the end of the Last Glacial Maximum) and 
2000 years ago - the latest date that anyone has suggested for their submergence. 

What happened in Japan during this 15,000-year period? Could it be that there is 
something concealed in the remote prehistory of these islands that would provide a 
context and perhaps even a completely rational explanation for the underwater ruins? 


Alexandria 


During 1998 and 1999 the Egyptian Mediterranean city of Alexandria was much in the 
news. French archaeologists, led by the melodiously named Dr Jean-Yves Empereur of 
the National Centre for Scientific Research, had announced the discovery of submerged 
ruins, complete with underwater columns, sphinxes and granite statues. In the same 
location they also claimed to have found the remains of the famed Pharos, or Lighthouse 

- 135 metres tall and one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world 13 - that had 
overlooked Alexandria’s Eastern Harbour from the point where the fort of the Mameluke 
sultan Qait Bey now stands. Though it was thought to have been built in the early third 
century bc, historical reports suggest that at least part of the giant lighthouse remained 
intact until 8 August ad 1303, when a tremendous earthquake struck the Egyptian 

coast. 14 

Researching my earlier books had given me little reason to go to Alexandria. During a 
decade of travels in Egypt my focus had always been on the oldest sites - those going 
back to the third millennium bc and perhaps further - sites like Giza, with the three 
Pyramids and the Great Sphinx, Saqqara, where the remarkable Pyramid Texts are 
inscribed inside the tombs of Fifth and Sixth Dynasty Pharaohs, and Abydos, with First 

Dynasty boat graves and the mysterious Osireion. 15 
Since it was common knowledge that Alexandria had not existed until 332 bc, the date 

of its foundation by Alexander the Great, 16 I had always felt that it was unlikely to hold 
much of interest to me. I was vaguely aware that it had been built upon the site of an 
earlier settlement named Rhakotis or Raqote, but since this was usually described as ‘an 

obscure fishing village’, 17 I never suspected for a moment that there might be significant 
traces of earlier monumental constructions in the area. 

None of the underwater discoveries that were made public at the end of the 1990s did 
anything to change my view. They too belonged to what is called the Ptolemaic period 
of Egypt, named for the ruling dynasty - of which Cleopatra was the last monarch - 
established soon after Alexander’s death by his general Ptolemy. I was at first intrigued 
to learn that inscriptions belonging to much earlier Pharaohs had been found amongst 
the underwater ruins - the cartouche of Rameses II (1290-1224 bc) on pink-granite 
‘papyriform’ columns from Aswan, an obelisk of his father Seti (1306-1290 bc), a sphinx 
from the time of Senuseret III (1878-1841 bc) and numerous other artefacts and objects 

bearing ancient inscriptions. 18 

On good grounds, archaeologists did not regard such discoveries as evidence of any 
earlier monumental settlement in Alexandria but rather of a well-known Ptolemaic habit 
of borrowing pieces of religious art and architecture from temples that had been built 

throughout Egypt by earlier Pharaohs. 19 Jean-Yves Empereur was very clear on this 
point: 


The numerous products of the Pharaonic period - sphinxes, obelisks and papyrus columns [found underwater 
around Qait Bey] - do not make any significant difference to what we already know about the history of Alexandria 
and its foundation by Alexander the Great. 


Diving with Empereur 

A research trip to Alexandria was easy to talk myself out of. Since what was known of 
its history was that it had no history before the end of the fourth century bc, there was 
obviously no good reason for me to go there. The ruins of the Pharos and of what looked 
like an extensive complex of buildings seaward of it had not been submerged in the 
period I was interested in - the end of the last Ice Age - but between the fourth century 
bc and the thirteenth century ad, most probably as a result of what geologists call 

‘vertical tectonic subsidence’ caused by earthquakes. Besides, there is a complicated 
permissions ordeal which one must undergo if one wishes to dive at Alexandria 
involving the Ministry of Information, the Ministry of National Security, the Supreme 
Council of Antiquities, the Police, Customs and the Navy. The whole process routinely 
takes a month ... 

So I’d pretty much quashed the idea before it took shape when I remembered that my 
good friend Robert Bauval was born in Alexandria and that several members of his 
large, globe-trotting family were still living there. On a whim I telephoned him - he 
lives just outside London - and asked him if he knew anything about Empereur and 
whether he thought it would be possible to fix up a day of unofficial diving with the 
French team. 

Rob is reputed to have worked miracles in Alexandria, even from as far away as 
England. I therefore wasn’t too surprised when he called me back the next day and 
informed me that he had spoken to his great-aunt Fedora, who knew Empereur well; she 
in turn had put in a good word with the archaeologist. The upshot was that we would be 
allowed to dive at Qait Bey without formality, any time that suited us in the next few 
weeks. 


Sleep of years 

On 30 September 1999 Santha and I, hefting our gear, met up with Robert at the 
gatehouse to Qait Bey fort. He ushered us inside its medieval limestone walls, soothing 
the guard in Arabic, and led us to a yard where scuba tanks were laid out and a group of 
young archaeologists, the men muscular, with stubbly chins, the women tanned and 
serious, were donning wetsuits and checking gear. 

Empereur, in his late forties, was older than the rest of his team. He was wearing a 
tropical linen jacket and a Panama hat and carrying a briefcase. ‘Excuse me,’ he now 
said as we shook hands, ‘but I have to rush off, so I won’t be diving with you today.’ 


‘No problem. I’m really very grateful to you for allowing us to do this at all at such 
short notice.’ 

Empereur shrugged: ‘My pleasure. I hope you enjoy yourselves.’ He introduced us to 
the other team members, then we shook hands again and he strode away. 

Because it’s hard to take notes underwater, I normally document my dives on video. It 
was my intention to do so now, but as we were getting ready I was told that this would 
not be permitted. Santha, likewise, was asked to leave her three Nikonos 5s behind. 
Apparently it was something to do with an exclusive deal that had been signed with the 
French photo agency Sygma. Robert protested vociferously on our behalf and as a 
compromise it was ultimately agreed that Santha could use her cameras but that my 
video would not be allowed under any circumstances. 

Once that was settled we were led down through a series of dank stone corridors with 
arrow-slits overlooking the sea until we emerged at the edge of the island - long since 
connected to the mainland by a causeway - on which Qait Bey stands. Here we put on 
our gear and tanks, jumped into the water with one of the archaeologists as our guide 
and descended at once into a submarine wonderland less than a dozen metres below us. 

It may be the most beautiful ancient site I have ever had the privilege to explore. The 
visibility was poor, which added a kind of foggy glamour to the scene, and we had to 
criss-cross the ruin-field many times, over three lengthy dives, before I began to 
appreciate how vast and how heterogeneous it was. There were huge numbers of 
columns, some broken, some virtually intact, but all tumbled and fallen. There were 
Doric column bases surrounded by tumbled debris. Here and there one or two courses of 
a wall could be seen, rising up out of the murk. There were dozens of metre-wide 
hemispherical stones, hollowed inside, of a type that I had never encountered before in 
Egypt. There were several small sphinxes, one broken jaggedly in half, and large 
segments of more than one granite obelisk seemed to have been tossed about like 
matchsticks. There were also quarried granite blocks scattered everywhere. Most were in 
the 2-3 square metre range but some were much larger - 70 tonnes or more. A notable 
group of these behemoths, some a staggering 11 metres in length, lay in a line running 
south-west to north-east in the open waters just outside Qait Bey. When I researched the 
matter later I learnt that they were amongst the blocks that Empereur had identified as 
coming from the Pharos: 

some of them are broken into two or even three pieces, which shows that they fell from quite a height. In view of 
the location the ancient writers give for the lighthouse, and taking into consideration the technical difficulty of 
moving such large objects, it is probable that these are parts of the Pharos itself which lie where they were flung by 
a particularly violent earthquake. 22 

There were exquisite moments when the sun broke through the clouds that lay over 
Alexandria that day and cast a beam of light down into some dark corner of the 
submerged ruins. Then the vanquished structures over which we were diving seemed to 
regather their former stature, like ghosts returning to flesh, before collapsing once again 


into their sleep of years. 


Treasure of the sunken city 

A few weeks later I still hadn’t been able to get the images of what I’d seen underwater 
off Qait Bey out of my mind, or quite rid myself of the feeling that I might have missed 
something important there. Without any particular objective I began to buy books about 
Alexandria and to acquaint myself better with the story of its past. Visiting Amazon.com 
one evening in mid-October, I found that someone was offering a second-hand copy of 
Alexandria - A History and a Guide written during the First World War and published in 

1922 by the British novelist E. M. Forster. 3 I bought it at once, for it is rumoured to be a 
fount of wisdom. Then I snapped up, in quick succession, The Library of Alexandria - 
Centre of the Ancient World, edited by Roy Macleod; Life and Fate of the Ancient Library of 
Alexandria by Mostafa El-Abbadi; Philo's Alexandria by Dorothy L. Sly; and The Vanished 

Library by Luciano Canfora. 24 

Oddly enough, Amazon’s search-engine couldn’t immediately find me anything when I 
entered the keyword Pharos. While I was thinking about what to search for next - 
maybe Seven Wonders of the ancient world? - I called up Jean-Yves Empereur’s name 
to see the complete list of his publications. I already owned his book Alexandria 
Rediscovered, which told the story of the underwater excavations at Qait Bey, but I 
hoped that he might have written other books about the region. He hadn’t and I found 
myself looking at Amazon’s sparse sales page for Alexandria Rediscovered. 

There was one review, from a reader in Phoenix, Arizona. He wrote that he wished no 
disrespect to Dr Empereur; however, after seventeen years as an archaeological diver in 
Egypt, he could not agree that Empereur’s team had found the Pharos. What they had 
found was interesting, yes, important, yes, but it was definitely not the Pharos. 

What was someone who’d worked for seventeen years as an archaeological diver in 
Egypt now doing in Phoenix, Arizona? And what did he know - or think he knew - 
about the Pharos? My instincts told me that there could be a story here, and although 
the reviewer did not give his name, there was an e-mail address. I sent him a message at 
once, explaining my interest in the underwater ruins of Alexandria and asking him to 
elaborate on his views about the Pharos. 

The next day, 17 October, I received this reply: 

Mr Graham, 

My name is Ashraf Bechai. I am the former leader of the Maritime Museum underwater team (1986/89). I am also a 
former diving engineer of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology. You can find a little more about me on the Institute 
web page. I will be glad to help you with any question you have. 

Sincerely, Ashraf Bechai, 

Phoenix AZ, USA. 


Attached was an extraordinary 23-page report titled Treasure of the Sunken City: The 
Truth About the Discovery of the Lighthouse. 


Ashraf Bechai’s story 

What came across in Ashraf s Bechai’s angry and impassioned report was a sense, above 
all else, of intellectual outrage. In his view Jean-Yves Empereur and his team had been 
altogether too narrow-minded in their interpretation of what they had found 
underwater at Qait Bey: 

During the last three years there have been many claims that the French marine-archaeological team that has been 
working underwater in the area of Qait Bey Fort has found the remains of a great building, identified by French and 
Egyptian archaeologists as the remains of the Pharos lighthouse. 

But is it the Pharos? 

I don’t see why we have to take it as they say without asking any questions. I don’t see why we’re expected to 
suspend our common sense just because this stuff is underwater and looks very spectacular on television. 

Bechai pointed out that if the Pharos had indeed been more than 100 metres tall, as all 
historical sources maintain, then it must have been a truly enormous building. The Great 
Pyramid of Giza, for example, which is 150 metres tall, with a base area of more than 

13 acres, weighs 6 million tonnes and consists of 21/2 million individual stone blocks. 25 
Since the building technology of the fourth century bc was, if anything, inferior to that of 
the third millennium bc, it is therefore unlikely that the lighthouse - with a reported 
height of 135 metres-could have had a base area of less than 12 acres or a weight of 
much less than 5 million tonnes. ‘Imagine how big the pile of stones that should remain 
from a building like that,’ suggested Bechai: 

Could this great amount of stone just disappear? Vanish in the water? The truth is that this much stone would have 
created an island in the sea and all the statues, sphinxes and other ancient Egyptian artefacts that the French team 
have found intermingled with the blocks would have been buried forever under a great pile of rock. 

Even if one supposes - against the evidence - that a far superior building technology 
existed in Alexandrian times than in the times of the Great Pyramid, and even if one 
reduces the height of the Pharos from 135 metres to 100 metres, it is still extremely 
unlikely that it could have been built with less than half a million individual stone 
blocks (as against the Pyramid’s 21/2 million blocks). But let us reduce it still further - 
to just 100,000 blocks, or even 50,000. 

Yet Empereur writes: ‘As soon as one puts one’s head under the water around Qait 
Bey one begins to feel dizzy at the sight of the 3000 or so architectural blocks which 

carpet the sea-bed.’ 26 It was precisely this ‘dizzying’ spectacle of only 3000 blocks that 
bothered Bechai. If the ruins around Qait Bey were the remains of the lighthouse and 
associated structures, then 3000 blocks was nowhere near enough: 


Three thousand blocks wouldn’t even build a large temple let alone a lighthouse 100 metres high! And many of the 
blocks in Empereur’s survey are scattered very far from Qait Bey. Some are almost a kilometre away. There is even 
one 75-ton granite block half a kilometre out to sea and 1.5 kilometres distant from Qait Bey. Are we supposed to 
believe that the earthquake was powerful enough to throw a 75-ton block as far as that? 

Bechai also made another valid point. Ancient texts referring to the Pharos concurred 
that it had been built of blocks of ‘white stone’ - limestone - which is plentifully 
available locally. Yet the underwater ruin-field outside Qait Bey consists primarily of 
scattered granite blocks and other architectural elements, such as columns, also made 
out of granite - a much more intractable material that had to be brought to Alexandria 
from quarries almost 1000 kilometres to the south. Whilst admitting that limestone does 
have a much faster rate of erosion than granite, Bechai did not believe that the vast 
amount of limestone that would have been required for the Pharos could possibly all 
have eroded away. He concluded: 

What we have at this site are scattered artefacts from different ages, different designs of blocks, columns and statues 
- not an indication of one thing but an indication of many things. 


The giant blocks of Sidi Gaber 

Before I was half-way through the report I realized that it pinpointed paradoxes and 
anomalies that I had completely missed during my dives with the French team. No doubt 
Empereur would have answers to all these questions but at this stage I had to admit that 
the questions themselves sounded reasonable. 

As I read on I realized that Bechai was agitated about much more than just the 
problem of the Pharos. He wrote: ‘I have seen things underwater in Alexandria during 
the last 17 years that challenge all our knowledge of the history of this area.’ As an 
example he reported how in 1984 he had gone spear-fishing with some friends off-shore 
of Sidi Gaber, a district along Alexandria’s crowded Corniche, some 3 kilometres to the 
east of Qait Bey: 

We were about two kilometres from shore, diving off a small boat. I remember that the visibility underwater was 
exceptionally good. We hadn’t been expecting that because there had been a storm a few days before which moved 
around a lot of the sand and silt on the bottom. Suddenly I saw hundreds of huge sandstone or limestone blocks laid 
out in three rows, each two courses high, that had been exposed on the sea-bed at a depth of about six to eight 
metres. The blocks appeared to be of identical dimensions - four metres wide by four metres long by two metres 
high. They were stacked up on an underwater ridge of some sort, because there was deeper water between them and 
the shore. All around there were hundreds more blocks of similar size that were heavily eroded, or damaged, or had 
fallen out of line. 

This group of blocks has been seen on and off by fishermen and divers over at least 25 years and there is still no 
proper explanation for it. I have never been so lucky with the visibility there again, nor the same bottom 
conditions, and despite many subsequent attempts to relocate the site I have so far failed to do so. 



Another interesting site, one that Bechai hadn’t seen himself, was the so-called Kinessa, 
an Arabic word meaning ‘church’ or ‘temple’: 


If you have lived in the wonderful city of Alexandria long enough and had connection with fishermen who do 
commercial net fishing then you must have heard about A1 Kinessa’. Some say that it is out in the open sea about 
one kilometre to the north of Qait Bey and that when an east wind blows and the waters are clear you can 
sometimes see what look like the remains of a building underwater. Others claim it is much further north - 
perhaps as much as five kilometres out from shore. Three different people told me very specifically that it is five 
kilometres north to north-west of Qait Bey. Before reaching it the sea-bed slopes down to 40 metres where the 
bottom is sandy with a few patches of rock; then you pass an area of rocky pinnacles, some as much as 20 metres 
high jutting out of another sandy bed; then the bottom profile rises up sharply from 40 metres to just 18 metres in 
depth creating a smooth-sided, flat-topped hill five kilometres from shore in the middle of nowhere. That is where 
they say the Kinessa is. 


Mystery of the sea 

After I had read Ashraf Bechai’s report I began to correspond with him about specific 
points by e-mail, and in due course we agreed that we would dive together to try to 
relocate the Sidi Gaber blocks and the Kinessa during the summer of 2000. Although his 
home was now in Phoenix, Arizona, where he ran a business, he told me that he still 
returned to Alexandria for at least three months every year and would be happy to work 
with me there so long as I could extract the necessary permits from the authorities. 

There were other travels to do in the meantime. On one trip, I don’t remember where, 
I took E. M. Forster’s Alexandria - A History and a Guide with me as airplane reading. In 
it I was intrigued to learn that Forster had drawn attention to a report published in 
1910 by the French archaeologist Gaston Jondet and entitled Les Ports submerges de 

Vancienne lie de Pharos. 2 ' According to Jondet, Forster said, someone had built a series of 
huge megalithic walls and causeways some distance off the coast of Alexandria beyond 
the island of Pharos that were now submerged to a depth of up to 8 metres beneath the 

sea. The character of these constructions, he judged, was ‘prehistoric’. 28 Summarizing 
reactions to the discovery, Forster wrote: 

Theosophists, with more zeal than probability, have annexed it to the vanished civilization of Atlantis; M. Jondet 
inclines to the theory that it may be Minoan-built by the maritime power of Crete. If Egyptian in origin, perhaps 
the work of Rameses II (b.c. 1300) ... The construction ... gives no hint as to nationality or date. It cannot be as late 
as Alexander the Great or we should have records. It is the oldest work in the district and also the most romantic for 
to its antiquity is added the mystery of the sea. 

I wondered how many archaeologists today shared Forster’s view about the antiquity 
and romance of the prehistoric harbour. I knew for sure that Jean-Yves Empereur did 
not. His on-the-record opinion, in full accord with the mainstream scholarly view, was 
that before Alexander’s arrival ‘the only inhabitants of the area must have been a few 


fishermen and perhaps also a garrison stationed here to guard the approaches to the 

Delta ’. 3 But if so, then who had built the much older and now submerged harbour - if it 
was indeed a harbour? And how did it fit in, if at all, with the megalithic blocks 
underwater at Sidi Gaber, or the elusive Kinessa that fishermen said appeared and 
disappeared beneath the sparkling waves - now you see it, now you don’t - like the Sea 
King’s castle? 


Rumours of the deluge 

Descriptions of a killer global flood that inundated the inhabited lands of the world turn 
up everywhere amongst the myths of antiquity. In many cases these myths clearly hint 
that the deluge swept away an advanced civilization that had somehow angered the 

gods, sparing ‘none but the unlettered and the uncultured ’ 31 and obliging the survivors 
to ‘begin again like children in complete ignorance of what happened ... in early 

times ’. 32 Such stories turn up in Vedic India, in the pre-Columbian Americas, in ancient 
Egypt. They were told by the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, the Arabs and the 
Jews. They were repeated in China and south-east Asia, in prehistoric northern Europe 
and across the Pacific. Almost universally, where truly ancient traditions have been 
preserved, even amongst mountain peoples and desert nomads, vivid descriptions have 

been passed down of global floods in which the majority of mankind perished . 33 

To take these myths seriously, and especially to countenance the possibility that they 
might be telling the truth, would be a risky posture for any modern scholar to adopt, 
inviting ridicule and rebuke from colleagues. The academic consensus today, and for a 
century, has been that the myths are either pure fantasy or the fantastic elaboration of 

local and limited deluges - caused for example by rivers overflowing, or tidal waves. 

‘It has long been known,’ commented the illustrious anthropologist Sir J. G. Frazer in 
1923, 

that legends of a great flood in which almost all men perished are widely diffused over the world ... Stories of such 
tremendous cataclysms are almost certainly fabulous; [but] it is possible and indeed probable that under a mythical 
husk many of them may hide a kernel of truth; that is they may contain reminiscences of inundations which really 
overtook particular districts, but which in passing through the medium of popular tradition have been magnified 
into worldwide catastrophes . 35 

Unquestioningly following Frazer’s lead, scholars to this day still persist in seeing flood 
stories as 

recollections - vastly distorted and exaggerated ... of real local disasters ... There is not one deluge legend but rather 
a collection of traditions which are so diverse that they can be explained neither by one general catastrophe alone, 
nor by the dissemination of one local tradition alone ... Flood traditions are nearly universal ... mainly because 
floods in the plural are the most nearly universal of all geologic catastrophes . 36 


Not all mainstream academics toe this line. But amongst those who don’t it seems to 
have been generally agreed that almost any explanation, however harebrained, is more 
acceptable than a simple literal interpretation of the myth of a global flood - i.e. that 
there actually was a global flood ... or floods. For example, this from Alan Dundes, 
Professor of Anthropology and Folklore at the University of California, Berkeley, is 
regarded as a perfectly acceptable scholarly position on the problem: ‘The myth is a 
metaphor - a cosmogenic projection of salient details of human birth insofar as every 

infant is delivered from a “flood” of amniotic fluid.’ 37 

My guess is that such thinking will not much longer survive the steady accumulation 
of scientific evidence which suggests that a series of gigantic cataclysms, exactly like 
those described in the flood myths, changed the face of the earth completely between 
17,000 years ago and 8000 years ago. At the beginning of this period of extraordinary 
climatic turbulence and extremes, fully evolved human beings of the modern type are 

thought to have been in existence for 100,000 years 38 - long enough in theory for at 
least some of them to have evolved a high civilization. While much of the land they 
formerly lived on is now submerged beneath the sea, and as unfamiliar to archaeologists 
as the dark side of the moon, how certain can we really be that some of them did not? 


Dark zone 

SCUBA is the acronym for the ‘Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus’ 

invented by the late Jacques Cousteau and Emile Gagnan in 1943. 3 At first thought 
likely to be expensive and of use only to specialists, the technology rapidly entered the 

mass market and, today, scuba-diving is the world’s fastest-growing sport. 40 

Although it should be obvious, it is worth remembering that only since scuba-diving 
was introduced has any kind of systematic marine archaeology become possible. 
Moreover, funds for this kind of research are limited, and the oceans are extremely large 

- constituting, in fact, more than 70 per cent of the earth’s surface. 41 Marine 
archaeologists have barely been able to begin the investigation of the millions upon 
millions of square kilometres of coastal shelf inundated since the end of the last Ice Age. 
As a result, the underwater world continues to constitute a gaping dark zone in human 
knowledge; it is entirely possible that archaeological surprises and upsets await us there. 

Question: Why has the first extensive evidence of large-scale prehistoric structures 
beneath the sea come from Japan? 

Answer: Japan has more scuba-divers than any other country and it follows that 
its coastal waters have been more thoroughly explored than those of any other 
country. 

Question: Why have the main underwater structures in Japan all been found south 
of the thirtieth parallel? 


Answer: Because most sport divers prefer warm water. There may be structures 
further north as well which simply haven’t been noticed yet because few divers 
are attracted to the cold or stormy seas in which they lie. 

India is the opposite of Japan. It has almost no leisure-diving industry (just a couple 

of dive-shops in the whole subcontinent) 42 but it does have marine archaeologists like S. 
R. Rao whose minds are open to extraordinary possibilities. Rao’s work around 
Poompuhur was guided by ancient Tamil traditions that speak of the submergence of 

large masses of land off southern India thousands of years ago. 4 And he himself admits 
that the ‘U-shaped structure’ found at 23 metres is hard to explain within the orthodox 
framework of history. 


‘11,000 years old, or older’ 

In August 2000 I took on a new research assistant, Sharif Sakr, who had just graduated 
in Human Sciences from Oxford University. One of the first tasks I gave him was to find 
me a top-flight academic, in Britain, who would be prepared to act as a kind of ‘resident 
expert’ on sea-level rise and who would be qualified to give an authoritative opinion on 
the date of submergence of almost any underwater structure in the world. Sharif came 
back to me with Dr Glenn Milne, a specialist in glacio-isostacy and glaciation-induced 
sea-level change at Durham University’s Department of Geology. Milne and his 
colleagues have established a worldwide reputation predicting ancient sea-level changes 
and the corresponding changes in the earth’s coastlines. Their predictions are based on a 
sophisticated computer model that has been under development since the 1970s and that 
takes into account many variables beyond changes caused solely by the melting of ice- 

sheets - the technical term is eustacy. 44 

In October 2000 Sharif approached Milne on my behalf and asked him to calculate the 
latest date that the large U-shaped structure and other nearby structures off the coast of 
Poompuhur could have been submerged. 

Thursday 12 October 2000, Sharif Sakr to Glenn Milne: Hi Glenn, 

Hope everything’s OK. 

Just a quick question: I’ve got a series of structures 5 kilometres off the south-east coast of India (Tamil Nadu 
region, probably roughly around 11N, 80E as a rough guess). 45 The structures are 23 metres underwater - which is 
extremely deep. If we assume only eustatics, then the implication would be that the structures are older than 
around 7000 bc. But there is also isostatic subsidence to consider: what proportion of that 23 metres depth, as a 
rough off-the-record guess, could be explained away through subsidence? 

Does the depth of the structures still suggest great antiquity, even when isostatics are brought into the equation? 
Thursday 12 October 2000, Glenn Milne to Sharif Sakr: Hi Sharif, 

I did a quick model run for that site and the predicted sea-level curve shows that areas currently at 23m depth 
would have been submerged about 11,000 years before the present. This suggests that the structures you mention 


are 11 thousand years old or older! 


No civilization known to history ... 

Although I could not be certain of anything until I was able to dive on it myself, the 
early descriptions of the U-shaped structure by the NIO’s marine archaeologists left little 
doubt that it was man-made. The ‘stone blocks’ and ‘courses of masonry’ that had been 
reported by all these experienced witnesses seemed to exclude any possibility that it 
could be natural or recent - or indeed anything other than the ruins of a very old stone 
building, resting on bedrock, constructed here before the ocean rose to cover it. 

Now, as I studied the e-mail from Glenn Milne, I knew just how ancient the U-shaped 
structure really might be - at least 11,000 years old. That’s 6000 years older than the 
first monumental architecture of ancient Egypt or of ancient Sumer in Mesopotamia - 
traditionally thought of as the oldest civilizations of antiquity. Certainly, no civilization 
known to history existed in southern India - or anywhere else - 11,000 years ago. Yet 
the U-shaped structure off the Tranquebar-Poompuhur coast invites us to consider the 
possibility that it was the work of a civilization that archaeologists have as yet failed to 
identify - one whose primary ruins could have been missed because they are submerged 
so deep beneath the sea. 



2 / The Riddle of the Antediluvian Cities 


And the Lord planted a garden eastward in Eden ... And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that 
is pleasant to the sight, and good for food ... And a river went out of Eden to water the garden ... 

Genesis 2:8-10 

I think we are going to get many surprises yet on land, and under the sea. 

Thor Heyerdahl, June 2000 

Millions of square kilometres of useful human habitat swallowed up by rising sea-levels 
at the end of the Ice Age. Myths of an antediluvian civilization destroyed by global 
floods. Sightings and rumours of inexplicable submerged structures in many different 
parts of the world. Could there be a connection? 

In order to investigate this problem systematically what I really needed was some 
method of correlating the facts about land loss at the end of the Ice Age with the 
localities suggested by the myths and with any eye-witness reports of anomalous 
underwater structures. I needed, in other words, something like an ‘antediluvian 
Encarta’ - an electronic atlas of the world as it had looked before, during and after the 
sea-level rise that accompanied the end of the Ice Age. Ideally I should be able to see, on 
demand, any coastline, any island, any expanse of ocean, as it had looked at 
millennium intervals throughout the entire period of the meltdown. 

Such a program, unfortunately, does not exist commercially, nor is information of the 
extremely specific kind I needed gathered together in any single work of reference. 
Detailed studies of scattered areas are available but no comprehensive, time-factored 
global picture. Yet, as I was to discover, cutting-edge research into post-glacial sea-level 
rise is underway at many universities and the information necessary to create a useful 
and reasonably reliable ‘antediluvian atlas’ does in fact exist - though not in published 
form. Glenn Milne and his colleagues at the Geology Department of Durham University 
are the leading UK specialists in the field and from September 2000 onwards it was they 
who came to my rescue. As noted in chapter 1, the state-of-the-art computer model that 
they have developed calculates the relevant variables to the extent that they are known 
and produces printable screen images of any location at any epoch during the past 
22,000 years. Since the model does not incorporate tectonic motion and not all its 
variables are known with great certainty, it is most accurate at predicting shoreline 
changes in tectonically inactive regions and over time intervals of several centuries or 
more - beyond that, its predictions are useful as approximate guides. The processing is 
not instantaneous and skilled man-hours are required to extract the required 
information from the program location by location. So Glenn was kind beyond measure 
in cheerfully and helpfully preparing all the inundation maps that are used in the later 
chapters of this book. 

But I had made forays into antediluvian geography before I met Glenn Milne. This 
was feasible wherever sufficiently detailed sea-level data was accessible to build up a 


sense of how the inundation of a particular region had progressed over a period of 
several thousands of years. Thanks to the work of Kurt Lambeck, a geologist at the 
Research School of Earth Sciences of the Australian National University, such data has 
been on public record for the Persian Gulf since 1996. Lambeck’s findings (which I was 
later able to confirm against Glenn Milne’s modelling of the post-glacial shorelines of 
the Gulf) were of enormous interest to me because the Persian Gulf was the home of a 
mysterious and extraordinary ancient culture - the Sumerians. Their flood myths seem to 
form the archetype for the much later Noah story in the Old Testament, and they are 
regarded by archaeologists as the founders of the oldest high civilization in the world. 

Inundation data for the end of the last Ice Age has never before been thought likely to 
have a bearing, one way or another, on the problem of the origins of civilization and 
has therefore never been used as an investigative tool by archaeologists interested in 
this problem. But since the relevant data was available for the Persian Gulf, I decided to 
try to find out what it might show. 


The five antediluvian cities of Sumer 

Located immediately to the north-west of the present coastline of the Gulf between the 
Euphrates and Tigris rivers, ancient Sumer flourished during the fourth and third 
millennia bc and the earliest surviving written version of the global flood ‘myth’ was 

found during excavations of the Sumerian city of Nippur 1 (located on the Euphrates 200 
kilometres south of the modern city of Baghdad). Inscribed on a tablet of baked clay, the 
Sumerian tradition is accepted by scholars as the source of the later Babylonian Epic of 

Gilgamesh 2 (which likewise speaks of a universal flood that destroyed mankind) and 
also bears a close relationship to the much-better-known flood account in the Old 

Testament. 3 

The Sumerian text is from a fragment - the lower third - of what was once a six- 

column tablet. 4 And while it is clear that it belongs to a very ancient and widely 
dispersed family of flood traditions, it nevertheless remains - in itself-a ‘unique and 
unduplicated’ document. ‘Although scholars have been “all eyes and ears” for new 
[Sumerian] deluge tablets, not a single additional fragment has turned up in any 

museum, private collection or excavation.’ 5 

What a rare and precious thing this little slab of baked mud is! And what a tale it has 
to tell. When I first read it I was instantly intrigued, because it contains explicit 
references to the existence of five antediluvian cities which, we are informed, were 
swallowed up by the waters of the flood. If such cities ever existed, then where should 
we expect to find their ruins today? 







\ 

\ *Larak 

/ - \ \ 

Shunrupak .\, 

Radtihira \ 

Eridu* Ur 

IRAQ 

IRAN 

‘A. 



Approximate course of the 

KUWAIT '£'• Co 

Euphrates 1.2000 bc - 


Modern borders- 

3 % 1 

o too km 



The first thirty-seven lines of the Sumerian tablet are missing, so we do not know how 

the story begins, but at the point where we enter it the flood is still far in the future/ 

We hear about the creation of human beings, animals and plants. Then another break 
of thirty-seven lines occurs after which we find that we have jumped forwards in time to 
an epoch of high civilization. We learn that in this epoch, before the flood, ‘kingship 

was lowered from heaven’, 8 a phrase that is eerily reminiscent of similar sky-ground 
symbolism contained in ancient Egyptian scriptures such as the Pyramid Texts (c.2300 

bc), the Book of what is in the Duat (c . 1400 bc) and the much later Hermetica (cad 300). 9 

Then comes the reference to the foundation of Sumer’s antediluvian cities by an 
unnamed ruler or a god: 

After the lofty crown and the throne of kingship had been lowered from heaven, 

He perfected the rites and the exalted divine laws ... 

Founded the five cities ... in pure places, 

Called their names, apportioned them as cult centres. 

The first of these cities, Eridu ... 

The second Badtibira... 

The third Larak ... 

The fourth Sippar ... 

The fifth Shurrupak ... 10 


‘A flood will sweep over the cult centres 

When we rejoin the narrative after a third 37-line lacuna the scene has changed 
bewilderingly. Although the flood is still in the future, the foundation of the five 
antediluvian cities is now far in the past. It is apparent from the context that in the 





intervening period the cities’ inhabitants have behaved in such a way as to incur divine 
displeasure and that a convocation of the gods has been called to punish mankind with 
the terrible instrument of an earth-destroying flood. At the moment where we pick up 
the story again a few of the gods are dissenting from this decision and expressing their 

unhappiness and dissatisfaction with it 11 

Without preamble, a man called Zisudra is then introduced - the Sumerian archetype 

of the biblical patriarch Noah. The text describes him as ‘a pious, god-fearing king’ 12 and 
allows us to understand that one of the gods - unnamed - has taken pity on him. The 
god tells Zisudra: 

Take my word, give ear to my instructions: 

A flood will sweep over the cult centres. 

To destroy the seed of mankind, 

Is the decision, the word of the assembly of gods. 10 

A text break of forty lines follows, which scholars deduce, from the many later 
recensions of the same myth, ‘must have continued with detailed instructions to Zisudra 

to build a giant boat and thus save himself from destruction’. 14 When the story resumes 
the cataclysm has already begun: 

All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, attacked as one, 

At the same time the flood swept over the cult centres. 

For seven days and seven nights the flood swept over the land, 

And the huge boat was tossed about by the windstorms on the great waters. 15 

Throughout the cataclysm the skies remain dark. Then, on the eighth day, the sun 
breaks through the clouds, and the rains and raging storms cease. From the deck of his 
survival ship Zisudra looks out over a world that has changed for ever and sacrifices an 

ox and a sheep to the sun-god. 16 

An infuriating lacuna of thirty-nine lines follows, presumably telling us about the 
place where Zisudra makes landfall and the steps that he takes thereafter. When we pick 
up the story again, near the end of the text, we find him in the presence of the high gods 
of the Sumerian pantheon, An and Enlil, who have repented of their earlier decision to 
wipe mankind entirely from the face of the earth and are now so grateful to Zisudra for 
building his Ark and surviving the flood that they decide to make him immortal: 

Life like a god they gave him; 

Breath eternal like a god they brought down for him, 

... Zisudra the king. 

The preserver of the name of vegetation and of the seed of mankind. 1 
The final thirty-nine lines are missing. 


Picking and choosing 


In his classic book The Sumerians, the late Professor Samuel Noah Kramer, one of the 
great authorities on ancient Sumer, observes that there are ‘tantalizing obscurities and 
uncertainties’ in this oldest surviving written version of the worldwide tradition of the 

flood. 1 ' What there can be no doubt about at all, however, is that the tablet speaks of an 
urban civilization that existed before the flood somewhere in the Persian Gulf area and 
provides us with the names of its sacred cities: Eridu, Badtibira, Larak, Sippar, 
Shurrupak. These cities, we are told quite specifically, were swallowed up in the deluge. 
Moreover, long after Sumerian civilization itself had ceased to exist, a rich tradition 
concerning the five cities, the antediluvian epoch and the flood survived in 

Mesopotamia almost down to Christian times. 20 Indeed it is fair to say that the 
traditional history of this region, as it was told in antiquity, is very clearly divided into 
two different periods - before and after the flood - and that both periods were regarded 
by the peoples of the region as absolutely factual and real. 

It is only later scholars who have picked and chosen from the histories, accepting half 
of what they say as the basis for orthodox Sumerian chronology and rejecting the other 
half - concerning the antediluvian period - as myth and fantasy. Their logic is that there 
is no archaeological evidence for any high urban civilization in Sumer earlier than the 

fourth millennium bc and indeed their digs have revealed none. 21 Yet, as the cliche goes, 
absence of evidence is not necessarily to be taken as evidence of absence - and even 
Kramer obviously had his doubts. In The Sumerians he recounts how, before 1952, 
archaeologists were unanimous in their opinion that Sumer had been uninhabited (and 
uninhabitable) marshland until about 4500 to 4000 bc: 

This figure was obtained by starting with 2500 bc, an approximate and reasonably assured date obtained by dead 
reckoning with the help of written documents. To this was added from fifteen hundred to two thousand years, a 
span of time large enough to account for the stratigraphical accumulation of all the earlier cultural remains down to 
virgin soil, that is right down to the beginning of human habitation in Sumer. 

But then, continues Kramer, two geologists, Lees and Falcon, ‘published a paper which 

carried revolutionary implications for the date of Sumer’s first settlement’. 23 They 
demonstrated that Sumer had ceased to be uninhabitable marshland long before 4500- 
4000 bc. Now that this was understood: 

It was not impossible that man had settled there considerably earlier than had been generally assumed. The reason 
traces of these earliest settlements in Sumer have not as yet been unearthed, it was argued, may be because the land 
is sinking slowly at the same time that the water-table has been rising. The very lowest level of cultural remains in 
Sumer may, therefore, now be under water and may never have been reached by archaeologists, since they would 
have been misled by the higher water level into believing they had touched virgin soil. If that should prove to be 
true, Sumer’s oldest cultural remains are still buried and untapped, and the date of Sumer’s very first settlements 
may have to be pushed back a millennium or so. 24 


But why only a grudging millennium or so? Once we’ve admitted it is possible that 
archaeologists may never have reached the oldest layers of human habitation in Sumer, 
why should we assume that further digging might only push the horizon back by a 
thousand years? Why not five thousand years? Or ten thousand years? What is this 
worship of the recent that archaeologists indulge in? 

The reason I ask these questions with a certain amount of exasperation is that 
Kramer, whose work has influenced several generations of students, does not for a 
moment consider the possibility that Sumer’s antediluvian traditions might be based on 
anything real at all. Indeed, he devotes only three pages of his book to the prehistory of 
this ancient land before giving thirty pages to the historic period - as though all of the 
former is nothing more than a preamble to the latter. 

I’m very struck by the extent to which Kramer relies on original Sumerian sources to 
build up his chronology of rulers, which begins, he says, with: 

The first dynasty of Sumer whose existence can be historically attested, the so-called First Dynasty of Kish, which 
according to the ancients themselves followed immediately upon the subsidence of the Flood ... The first ruler of 
Sumer whose deeds are recorded is a king by the name of Etana of Kish, who may have come to the throne quite 
early in the third millennium bc 25 

It is in precisely this way that every Sumerian text about the period after the flood is 
treated as grist to the mill by historians constructing chronologies while every Sumerian 
text about the period before the flood is relegated to the realm of the mythologists ... 


So little to go on 

Kramer’s recognition, with the geologists Lees and Falcon, that people could have 
settled in the fertile valley between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers much earlier than 
had previously been assumed has been entirely vindicated by subsequent discoveries of 

the traces of ‘primitive agricultural villages’ dating back more than 8000 years. 

But the clues that have come down to us from this remote period are scanty and often 
ambiguous. 

For example, with a tiny evidence base, are archaeologists absolutely certain that they 
could tell the difference between a small group of ‘primitive’ farmers and a small group 
of shattered and demoralized survivors from an urban civilization destroyed in a terrible 

flood? 27 Not a river-flood, no matter how big ... but a real marine flood, deep and wild 
and sweeping in over the land, carrying all before it like the one described in the story 
of Zisudra. 


Woolley’s deluge 


It is a river flood that has traditionally been suggested by scholars as the event described 


in the Zisudra text. 28 This goes back to the excavations of the renowned British 
archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley at the Sumerian city of Ur in 1922-9. Digging 
inspection trenches through thousands of years of habitation layers, he suddenly reached 
a layer of silt almost 3 metres deep which he described as ‘perfectly clean clay, uniform 

throughout, the texture of which showed that it had been laid there by water’. 29 The silt 
itself was void of habitation evidence, but there were further habitation layers below it 

that he dated to 3200 bc 30 

Woolley declared that he had found the first concrete proof of the cataclysm described 
in the Zisudra story and the biblical flood of Noah and added: 

The discovery that there was a real deluge to which the Sumerian and the Hebrew stories of the Flood alike go back 
does not of course prove any single detail in either of those stories. This deluge was not universal, but a local 
disaster confined to the lower valley of the Tigris and Euphrates, affecting an area perhaps 400 miles long and 100 
miles across; but for the occupants of the valley that was the whole world! 31 

Woolley may not have been right that the inhabitants of the Tigris/Euphrates river 
valley thought of it as the ‘whole world’ but he needed to see them as geographically 
naive in order to explain why they had described his ‘local disaster’ as a ‘universal’ flood 
that threatened the survival of mankind as a whole. Neither was he necessarily right 
about the riverine nature of his silt layer; other, more recent, voices have suggested that 
it may have been laid down a few hundred years earlier than he suggested and that the 
agency is more likely to have been a massive transgression of the sea, followed by a 
gradual retreat of the waters with deposition of silt, than the work of the Tigris and 

Euphrates. 32 


Rising seas 

In the 1990s Kurt Lambeck of the Australian National University carried out a detailed 
study of the Persian Gulf in order to map and simulate its ‘palaeo-shorelines’ from 
18,000 ago - around the end of the Last Glacial Maximum-right up to today. He 
calculates that the modern shoreline of the region 

was reached shortly before 6000 years ago, and exceeded as relative sea-level rose 1-2 metres above its present level, 
inundating the low-lying areas of lower Mesopotamia. 

This marine transgression, which occurred between approximately 6000 and 5500 years 
ago, flooded the coastal plains of Sumer and extended the northwestern shoreline of the 
Gulf to the doorsteps of Eridu and Ur - where the rising waters may have temporarily 

peaked as high as 3 metres above today’s level before receding. 34 Geneticist Dr Stephen 
Oppenheimer, who has made a special study of floods and ancient migrations, suggests 
that this could have been the event that left behind the thick inundation deposit that 
Leonard Woolley excavated at Ur - not a river-flood at all as Woolley had believed, but 


a marine flood. 35 

In his important book Eden in the East Oppenheimer argues that what happened in the 
Gulf at this time, between approximately 6000 and 5500 years ago (4000-3500 bc), was 
the local effect of a worldwide episode of rapid, relatively short-term flooding known as 
the Flandrian transgression - which had a significant impact not only along the shores 

of the Gulf but in many other parts of Asia as well. 36 Noting that ‘the destructive effect 
of the Flandrian transgression in wiping out coastal archaeological sites up to about 
5500 years ago is now well recognized,’ he launches the interesting speculation that in 
the case of Sumer: 

Eridu may be the oldest coastal city not destroyed by the invading sea. In other words it could have been the last old 
city to be built at the post-glacial high water points 

Likewise, the distinguished Sumeriologist Georges Roux argues that between 6000 and 
5000 years ago the shoreline of the Gulf was approximately 1 or 2 metres above its 
present level, so that its north-western coast lay ‘in the vicinity of Ur and Eridu’. 
Thereafter, ‘gradual regression, combined with silting from the rivers, brought it to 

where it is now’. 38 


Eridu 

So I was back to the mystery of the antediluvian cities again and how they could 
possibly have been ‘swept over by the flood’, as the Zisudra story claimed, when Eridu 
had so obviously survived into historical times. In fact, as I was soon to learn, all the 
antediluvian cities had survived into historical times; none of them was presently 
underwater and at least one of them - Eridu - appeared never to have been underwater! 

Between 1946 and 1949 Eridu’s ruins, located in the south of Sumer near the 

Euphrates, a little to the north and west of the modern city of Basra, 39 were thoroughly 

excavated by a team from the Iraqi Directorate of Antiquities led by Fuad Safar. 0 The 
archaeologists paid particular attention to the temple of Enki, the Sumerian god of 

wisdom and Eridu’s tutelary deity. 4i Here they dug a deep trench through many 
different layers of construction and reconstruction from about 2500 bc down until they 
finally reached the temple’s very first building phase. Originally thought to have dated 
to about 4000 bc 42 - itself an epoch of fabulous antiquity - the excavators kept finding 
older and older material. 

The central structure of the site is its principal ziggurat - step-pyramid-which was 
erected around 2030 bc by a Sumerian king named Amar Sin. 4 But it, too, turned out to 
stand on top of a series of earlier structures. Under one of its corners the archaeologists 
unearthed the ruins of no less than seventeen temples, 


built one above the other in proto-historic times. The lowest and earliest of these temples (Levels XVII-XV) were 
small, one roomed buildings which contained altars, offering tables and a fine-quality pottery decorated with 
elaborate, often elegant geometric designs. 44 

Judging by the pottery, these earliest shrines of Eridu go back much further than 4000 
bc and probably as far as 5000 bc - i.e. 7000 years ago. 5 That, says Georges Roux, 
makes ‘Eridu one of the most ancient settlements in southern Iraq’ and a ‘remarkable’ 
choice in the mythology as the oldest of the antediluvian cities. 46 

There therefore seems to be no dispute that there was a settlement of some sort here 
before the region was flooded by the Flandrian transgression around 5500 years ago. Yet 
the excavations, which only stopped when the archaeologists reached ‘virgin soil’, 

‘yielded no trace of a flood’. 47 How could that be explained in an antediluvian city 
supposedly inundated not just by any old flood but by the flood? And how was I to make 
sense of the fact that ancient Ur, less than 20 kilometres away and on slightly higher 

ground, 48 was not even named in the flood tradition and yet did show evidence of a 
severe, silt-bearing inundation? 

In 1992 Jules Zarins, a geologist at Southwest Missouri State University, suggested a 
possible solution to this problem. In a paper published in the Journal of the American 
Oriental Society, he showed that in spite of Eridu’s location in a low-lying depression 
south-west of Ur ‘an eight-metre scarp of the Upper Fars formation (the Hazim) runs 
well to the north and south, possibly blocking any marine infilling into the 

depression’. 49 Now I was better equipped to understand what Oppenheimer and Roux 
were getting at. Looking at a map of the valley of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, I 
could easily see how the relatively small and temporary increase in sea-level associated 
with the Flandrian transgression could have flooded low-lying areas of ancient Sumer - 

in fact up to about 180 kilometres inland 50 -in what are now Iran, Kuwait and Iraq. This 
would have brought the northern shoreline of the Persian Gulf very close to Eridu while 
quite conceivably carrying it just beyond Ur, thus leaving behind the flood deposit that 

Woolley had found. 51 



Shurrupak and Sippar 




The archaeological results at the antediluvian city of Shurrupak, about 100 kilometres 
north of Eridu on the Euphrates river, also show evidence of a flood in the form of 
‘sizeable deposits of water-borne clay and sand due to a major and prolonged 

inundation’. 52 Since Shurrupak was renowned as the birthplace of Zisudra, the Sumerian 

Noah who had ‘preserved the seed of mankind’, 53 I thought at first that this might be a 
promising lead. But it fizzled out. The Shurrupak flood was securely dated to 4900 years 
ago - probably six or seven hundred years later than the flood recorded at Ur - and was 

almost certainly riverine. 54 

Dedicated to the sun-god Utu, 55 Sippar is the furthest inland of all the antediluvian 
cities and plays a special role in the Sumerian flood story. In fragment 4a of the few 
scattered remnants of the once widely renowned History of the Babylonian priest 
Berossos (who wrote in the third century bc but whose work is thought by scholars to 

convey authentic Sumerian traditions), 56 Sippar is remembered as the place where the 
knowledge of the antediluvian race was hidden away before the flood and preserved for 
use by the survivors of mankind. 

The Noah figure in this version of the story is named Xisouthros (instead of Zisudra). 
A god visits him in a dream, warns him that humanity is about to be destroyed in a 
terrible deluge, and orders him to build a huge boat of the usual dimensions in the usual 

way. 5 So far this is all very familiar, but then comes a feature not found in the other 
versions of the tradition. The god tells Xisouthros that he is to gather up a collection of 
precious tablets inscribed with sacred wisdom and to bury these in a safe place deep 

underground in ‘Sippar, the City of the Sun’. 58 These tablets contained ‘all the 
knowledge that humans had been given by the gods’ and Xisouthros was to preserve 
them so that those men and women who survived the flood would be able to ‘relearn all 

that the gods had previously taught them’. 59 

The story of the flood itself is then given and of the journey of Xisouthros and his 
proteges in the Ark. Immediately after they make landfall Xisouthros steps down from 
the great ship, offers a sacrifice to the gods and then vanishes-having been transported 
immediately to immortal life. Those who remained on board are now leaderless and 
confused until a voice is heard from the heavens telling them to sail the ship back 
towards Babylon and to seek out the city of Sippar, which will have survived the flood. 

They are to ‘dig up the tablets that were buried there and turn them over to mankind’: 60 

And those who had arrived in Babylonia dug up the tablets in the city of Sippar and brought them out. They built 
many cities and erected temples to the gods and renewed Babylon. 1 


An uncomfortable feeling 


A quick inventory shows that we have so far identified three cities in the Persian Gulf 


area called Sippar, Shurrupak and Eridu in the historical period and three counterpart 
cities with exactly the same names which tradition says existed before the flood. We 
have Ur, very close to Eridu, which is not spoken of as an antediluvian city but which 
clearly suffered a major episode of flooding that laid down almost 3 metres of silt 
around the middle of the fourth millennium bc. We have Shurrupak, which was also 
inundated but not until about 700 years later. Meanwhile Sippar, the northernmost and 
farthest from today’s Gulf coast of the five antediluvian cities, is named in the Berossos 
text as a place where it would have been practical for documents buried before the flood 
to be retrieved after the waters had subsided. 

The remaining two antediluvian cities of the Sumerian tradition - Badtibira and Larak 

- have also been identified with archaeological sites in Iraq; 2 however (as indeed is the 
case with Sippar, Shurrupak and Eridu as well), these sites are not particularly large, 
splendid or significant as one might expect of such sanctified ground. As William Hallo 
of Yale University comments, ‘The cities in question are not outstanding in importance 

... They are distinguished, rather, for their antiquity.’ 63 

Since excavations at Eridu found the earliest occupation layers to have been laid 
down as much as 7000 years ago the city is indeed technically ‘antediluvian’ (by more 
than 1000 years) with respect to the Flandrian transgression - and the same is already 
known to be the case at Ur, where Woolley’s excavators found habitation traces not 
only above the flood layer but also below it. 

On the face of things, then, it seems reasonable to agree - and many scholars from 
Woolley onwards have agreed - that it was this flood at this time, or at any rate one of 
the frequent large-scale floods both riverine and marine to which the region was much 
prone in antiquity, that must have given rise to the Sumerian flood tradition. The new 
evidence revealing the extent of the flooding of southern Mesopotamia between 
approximately 4000 and 3500 bc - just on the edge of the historical period - should, if 
anything, have strengthened this hypothesis. 

So why didn’t I feel comfortable with it? 


Heyerdahl on Sumer 

The floods that had been archaeologically testified in the valley of the Lower Euphrates 
and Tigris took place too soon after the date for the foundation of Eridu and the other 
‘antediluvian’ cities to fit in with the sense of grandeur and vast age that the traditions 
conveyed. When I looked again at the story of Zisudra, the story of the Babylonian flood 

hero Atrahasis, 64 the Epic of Gilgamesh, 65 the fragments of Berossos, and numerous 
other recensions and variants, I found that all of them set the antediluvian city-building 
period in the frame of vast expanses of time - frequently running into tens of thousands 

and even hundreds of thousands of years. 35 While I could understand why William Hallo 

felt that ‘this chronology, measured in millennia, is obviously fantastic,’ 67 I found his 


own proposed chronology equally absurd. ‘Mesopotamian urbanism,’ he argued in the 
prestigious Journal of Cuneiform Studies, ‘was only some two centuries old at the time of 

the flood ..,’ 68 

In June 2000 I met the explorer and adventurer Thor Heyerdahl, then eighty-six years 
old, at the excavation of a group of step-pyramids on Tenerife in the Canary Islands. We 
spent the afternoon together, under the blazing sun, exploring the site that he had 
brought to world attention. 

Heyerdahl was everything I had expected him to be - impatient with protocol, a 
powerful presence, with piercing blue eyes, endearing vanities, a bawdy sense of 
humour, and an open, inquiring, restless mind. His Tigris expedition in 1977, which had 
begun in the Persian Gulf and culminated in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, had proved 
that the reed boats of ancient Mesopotamia were sufficiently seaworthy and technically 
advanced to make long-distance marine voyages. Evidence of trans-oceanic trade at the 
very beginning of Sumerian history suggested very strongly that they had indeed made 
such voyages as early as the fourth millennium bc - and perhaps even earlier. Moreover, 
wherever archaeologists excavate they find amidst the ruins of Sumer’s most ancient 
cities all the signs of a civilization that was already highly evolved, accomplished and 
sophisticated when those cities were founded more than 5500 years ago. 

‘Now we know that man is more than two million years old,’ exclaimed Heyerdahl, ‘it 
would be very strange if our ancestors lived like primitive food collectors for all that 
time until suddenly they started in the Nile valley, in Mesopotamia and even in the 
Indus valley, to build a civilization at peak level pretty much at the same time. And 
there’s a question I ask that I never get an answer to. The tombs from the first kingdom 
of Sumer are full of beautiful ornaments and treasures made of gold, silver, platinum, 
and semi-precious stones - things you don’t find in Mesopotamia. All you find there is 
mud and water - good for planting but not much else. How did they suddenly learn - in 
that one generation just about - where to go to find gold and all these other things? To 
do that they must have known the geography of wide areas, and that takes time. So 
there must have been something before.’ 

I pointed out that the First Dynasty of Sumer defined itself as the first dynasty after 
the flood. The historical Sumerians had always believed that their history was connected 
to an earlier episode of city-building and civilized life that had begun many thousands of 
years in the past and from which this deluge separated them. ‘We’re coming to a 
controversial idea,’ I suggested, ‘which is that the great civilizations of historical 
antiquity may have received some kind of legacy from an antediluvian culture - an idea 
orthodox archaeologists detest.’ 

‘I know that,’ Heyerdahl replied, ‘but I mean they cannot give any answer to how 
could the Sumerians five thousand years ago know where to go and find these different 
kinds of raw material. They must have known the world. So, and I mean it, it is for me 
almost as fantastic as Erich Von Daniken who brought in people from space, to say as 
the archaeologists do - oh no, no, they sat in Egypt and Mesopotamia and the Indus 


valley, and they decided, bang, suddenly, just like that, we are going to build pyramids, 
we are going to go and find gold and we are going to do all this ... It’s ridiculous. I say 
it straight out - it could not be possible.’ 

‘The idea of a lost civilization drives archaeologists mad and they seem to want to 
stop people thinking about it.’ 

‘Well I understand why! Too many people have brought this up together with fairytale 
stories ...’ 

‘Which has put the historians off, so that they simply never explore this kind of 
question?’ 

‘Yes, and this is a great pity. Because I mean even the sunken Atlantis story, which 
they all dismiss, is interesting - because why did the early Greeks write this story and 
why did they get it from the Egyptians, and for that matter why does every civilized and 
half-civilized nation in the world talk about the flood? Don’t let us throw it away until 
we know that this is impossible. There has to be a possibility ... and I think that we 
should look for it with the modern technical means we have. I think we are going to get 
many surprises yet on land, and under the sea.’ 


No surprises: what the archaeologists say about before’ 

Heyerdahl had arrived at his misgivings about the orthodox chronology of Sumer 
because he felt that it did not allow time for the evolution and development of the 
advanced urban civilization that archaeologists now knew had flourished there from the 
fourth millennium bc. ‘There has to have been something before,’ he reminded me when 
we parted. ‘Look for whatever was before.’ 

Of course, there had been something before - a well-worked-out stratigraphical 
sequence that traced the development of human civilization in Mesopotamia back 
through ‘proto-history’ before the early dynastic period and thence into the Neolithic, 
Mesolithic and even the Palaeolithic epochs - a long, gradual, unsurprising process 
spread out over 30,000 years that Georges Roux sums up as ‘from cave to farm and from 

village to city’. 69 

At risk of grossly abbreviating the painstaking archaeological work that has gradually 
uncovered this sequence, here are a few of the main mileposts: 

Shanidar Cave in the Kurdish mountains of what is now northern Iraq: occupied by Neanderthal man c.50,000 years 
ago to 46,000 years ago; occupied by anatomically modern Upper Palaeolithic humans around 34,000 years ago; 
occupied by Mesolithic peoples around 11,000 years ago. 

Jarmo, also in northern Iraq - a Neolithic agricultural site which may perhaps date as early as 8750 years ago. It has 
a 7 metre high artificial mound resting on top of a very steep hill and is formed of sixteen layers of superimposed 
habitations. 1 


Hassuna, again in northern Iraq (35 kilometres south of Mosul). The first settlement here has the appearance of a 


more primitive Neolithic farming community living in huts or tents. Overlying this layer archaeologists found six 
layers of houses, progressively larger and better built. 

Umm Dabaghiya - about 8000 years old: more sophisticated features found, including beautiful murals and floors 
made out of large clay slabs ‘carefully plastered with gypsum and frequently painted red’. 73 

The Samarra period - named after a widespread pottery style created by what Roux describes as ‘a hitherto 
unsuspected culture which flourished in the Middle Tigris valley during the second half of the sixth millennium 
BC’-i.e. approximately 7500 years ago. 74 The geneticist Luca Cavalli-Sforza suggests that this date should be pushed 
back to ‘about 8000 years ago’. 75 There is evidence that this culture used irrigation techniques, grew large surpluses 
of wheat, barley and linseed, and built spacious houses out of mud-brick 76 - later the favoured method of 
construction in the cities and temples of historical Sumer. 

As well as Samarra several other ‘proto-historical’ cultural phases have been identified 
in which elements of Sumer’s future civilization can be witnessed taking shape in 
increasingly organized and recognizable forms. Two of these phases stand out 
prominently in the archaeological record - the ‘Ubaid’ period (roughly 7200 to about 

5500 years ago 7 and including the first temple at Eridu), 78 and the ‘Uruk’ period (6000 
years ago down to about 5200 years ago, showing further developments in the 
evolution of temple architecture). 80 The Uruk period, which some archaeologists prefer 
to see as a subdivision of the Ubaid, 81 then merges fairly seamlessly into the early 
dynastic period of Sumer. 

All of the above dates are of course approximate and are subject to processes of 
continuous revision and refinement by scholars. Nevertheless, they are thought likely to 

be accurate to within about 300 years. 83 In general the academics also agree that the 
direction of the ‘flow’ of the urban lifestyle in Mesopotamia is from north to south - 
with the first village-style settlements and large houses established in the north before 
being seen in the south. However, and paradoxically, Sumerian civilization as a 
distinctive entity, the origins of which archaeologists now trace back at least as far as 
the Ubaid period if not further, appears to be a phenomenon that had its origins in 
southern Mesopotamia. According to Georges Roux: 

During the fourth millennium bc the cultural development already perceptible during the Ubaid period proceeded 
at a quicker pace and the Sumerian civilization finally blossomed. This, however, took place only in the southern 
half of Iraq, the northern half following a different course and lagging behind in many respects. 4 

The word ‘Sumerian’ is derived from Shumer, the ancient name of southern Iraq. 
Archaeologists believe that they have distinguished the presence of three distinct ethnic 
groups living in close contact in this region at the dawn of history around 5000 years 
ago. These were: 

the Sumerians, predominant in the extreme south from approximately Nippur [near modern Diwaniyah] to the 
Gulf, the Semites, predominant in central Mesopotamia (the region called Akkad after 2400 bc), and a small, diffuse 


minority of uncertain origin to which no definite label can be attached. 86 

Apparently, the only distinguishing features of these three groups are their languages. 
Otherwise: 

All of them had the same institutions; all of them shared the way of life, the techniques, the artistic traditions, the 
religious beliefs, in a word the civilization which had originated in the extreme south and is rightly attributed to 
the Sumehans. 


The Sumerian problem 

With so much known about the evolution and development of the magnificent urban 
civilization of Sumer, it comes as a surprise to discover that there is such a thing as ‘the 

Sumerian problem’. 89 I prefer to let the scholars speak for themselves: 

Who are these Sumerians? Do they represent a very ancient layer of population in prehistoric Mesopotamia, or did 
they come from some other country, and if so, when did they come and whence? This important point has been 
debated again and again ever since the first relics of the Sumerian civilization were brought to light more than a 
century ago. The most recent discoveries, far from offering a solution, have made it even more difficult to answer 

90 

And there is a mystery about the Sumerian language. It can be read and studied 
because later civilizations, such as the Babylonians, kept archives of Sumerian texts and 
also helpfully translated them into their own languages. However, Sumerian has a 

distinct peculiarity. It is unrelated to any of the known language families of the world. 91 
So although there is a real sense in which Sumer and its precocious urban culture fit in 
very nicely with long-term developmental trends in ancient Mesopotamia - as I believe 
the scholars have successfully demonstrated - there is also a sense in which the 
Sumerians are definitely a bit different, a bit special ... and conspicuously attached to 
the south ... 

I’ve been dealing with archaeologists long enough now to realize that they don’t like 
myths or traditions very much (‘can’t weigh ’em, can’t measure ’em, can’t carbon-date 
’em’). I was therefore not surprised to learn that they discounted what the Sumerians 
themselves had to say about their own origins: 

Sumerian literature presents us with the picture of a highly intelligent, industrious, argumentative and deeply 
religious people, but offers no clue as to its origins [emphasis added]. Sumerian myths and legends are almost 
invariably drawn against a background of rivers and marshes, of reeds, tamarisks and palm-trees - a typical 
southern Iraqi background - as though the Sumerians had always lived in that country, and there is nothing in them 
to indicate clearly an ancestral homeland different from Mesopotamia. 8 ^ 

But, as we have seen, the Sumerians had very clear ideas about their own origins ... In 
their myths and legends they remembered a time, before the flood, when they had lived 


in five great cities. And they remembered a deluge so ferocious that it threatened the 
existence of all mankind ... 


The Seven Sages: what the Sumerians said about before 

Sumerian myths and legends of the antediluvian world do much more than speak of the 
five cities. They also tell an extraordinary story of how their ancestors, who lived in the 
‘most ancient times’, were visited by a brotherhood of semi-divine beings described as 
half men, half fish, who had been ‘sent [by the gods] to teach the arts of civilization to 
mankind before the Flood’ and who had themselves ‘emerged from the sea’. The 
collective name by which these creatures were known was the ‘Seven Sages’ and the 
name of their leader was Oannes. Each of them was paired as a ‘counsellor’ to an 
antediluvian king and they were renowned for their wisdom in affairs of state and for 

their skills as architects, builders and engineers. 93 



Fish-garbed figure taken from stone relief on Assyrian temple, possibly representing 
Oannes, leader of the Seven Sages. 


The priest Berossos compiled his History from the temple archives of Babylon (reputed to 

have contained ‘public records’ that had been preserved for ‘over 150,000 years’). 9 He 
has passed on to us a description of Oannes as a ‘monster’, or a ‘creature’. However, 
what Berossos has to say-ridiculous though this may sound - is surely more suggestive of 
a man wearing some sort of fish-costume. There is also a geographical anomaly in the 
text that may prove worthy of further consideration: 







There appeared from the Red Sea in an area bordering on Babylonia a frightening monster, named Oannes ... It had 
the whole body of a fish, but underneath and attached to the head of the fish there was another head, human, and 
joined to the tail of the fish, feet like those of a man, and it had a human voice. Its form has been preserved in 
sculpture to this day ... 

This monster spent its days with men, never eating anything, but teaching men the skills necessary for writing 
and for doing mathematics and for all sorts of knowledge: how to build cities, found temples, and make laws. It 
taught men how to determine borders and divide land, also how to plant seeds and then to harvest their fruits and 
vegetables. In short, it taught men all those things conducive to a civilized life. Since that time nothing further has 
been discovered. At the end of the day, this monster, Oannes, went back to the sea and spent the night. It was 
amphibious, able to live both on land and in the sea ... Later, other monsters similar to Oannes appeared." 3 


Did they come from the east? 

In 1944 Benno Landsberger, one of the great Sumerian scholars of the twentieth 
century, commented in an obscure essay that in his opinion: 

The legend of the Seven Sages who, emerging from the sea, imparted all technical skills and all knowledge to the 
Babylonians, may quite possibly have some historical basis." 0 

What he had in mind here was ‘the Sumerian problem’ - i.e. the as yet unanswered 
question: where did the Sumerians come from? Earlier than most archaeologists, he fully 
understood that ‘the essential civilizing process on Mesopotamian soil must be ascribed 
to the pre-Sumerian population’. But at the same time the Sumerians were distinctively 
different and much more advanced than their immediate neighbours in terms of the 
level of development of their intellectual and philosophical ideas. ‘In the area of 

intellectual culture,’ he wrote, ‘only the Sumerians possessed creative powers.’ 9 

In fact they were so different in this respect that Landsberger was convinced they 
must have been migrants from somewhere else. He felt that only such a migration could 
account for the creation of the unique and idiosyncratic early dynastic culture 

which is considered to be so specifically Sumerian and which in its later manifestations indeed represented the 
Sumerian essence in its purest state. In all probability the Sumerians came from the East. Not only does the density 
of the settlement indicate a settling from south to north, but the absence of Sumerian elements in the mountain 
ranges north and east of Babylonia favors the thesis that the Sumerians came across the sea. 8 

In further support of his thesis Landsberger pointed out that the island of Bahrain, in the 
south of the Persian Gulf near Qatar 

possessed deities with authentic Sumerian names such as the chief god En-zak and his spouse Me-skil-ak. This 
circumstance supports an overseas origin for the Sumerians, since it is improbable that the island was colonized 
from southern Mesopotamia." 


Landsberger went on to speculate that the spark of Sumerian genius might have been 


imported from the Indus Valley civilization across the Arabian Sea to the east, 100 an 
interesting idea in itself. However, because he was writing in the 1940s he did not have 
access to modern knowledge about the astonishing changes that took place in the 
Persian Gulf at the end of the last Ice Age. He was thus unable to consider a far more 
radical possibility that the new science has revealed. 


Explosive implications 

Kurt Lambeck’s work on the Persian Gulf initially drew my attention because it spoke of 
a marine flooding incident - the Flandrian transgression between about 6000 and 5500 
years ago - that temporarily shifted the northern coast of the Gulf more than 150 
kilometres inland and made Ur and Eridu beachfront property. 

Lambeck’s study was published in 1996 in the Earth and Planetary Science Letters, a 
specialist geological journal that probably does not cross the desks of a great many 

archaeologists. 101 He had focused on the period from 18,000 years ago - around the 
peak of the last glaciation - until today and had taken into account all the key variables 
including 

the response of the earth to glacial unloading of the distant ice sheets and to the meltwater loading of the Gulf itself 
and the adjacent ocean. Models for these glacio-isostatic effects have been compared with observations of sea-level 
change, and palaeoshoreline reconstructions of the Gulf have been made. 102 

Now, as I looked more closely into Lambeck’s research, I realized that it could have 
unexplored and potentially explosive implications for the prehistory of Sumer: 

From the peak of the glaciation until about 14,000 yr bp [years before the present] the Gulf is free of marine 
influence out to the edge of the Biaban shelf. By 14,000 yr bp the Strait of Hormuz had opened up as a narrow 
waterway and by about 12,500 years ago the marine incursion into the Central Basin had started. The Western Basin 
flooded about 1000 years later. Momentary standstills may have occurred during the Gulf flooding phase at about 
11,300 and 10,500 yr bp... 

In other words the whole of the Persian Gulf - in fact to a point well beyond the Strait 
of Hormuz in what is now the Gulf of Oman - was dry land between 18,000 and 14,000 
years ago. Only then did the sea begin to transgress into the Gulf itself, first as a narrow 
waterway, later as a recurrent cycle of powerful short-lived floods, each followed by a 
partial recession of the floodwaters, then a standstill, then renewed flooding at irregular 
intervals. 

I knew from my first encounter with Lambeck’s research that the present shoreline of 
the Gulf had been reached, and then temporarily exceeded, around 5500 years ago 
during the Flandrian transgression. But what I had not immediately understood was the 
extraordinary geological drama that had unfolded between 14,000 years ago, when the 
Gulf first began to flood, and 7000 years ago, when the city-state of Eridu was 
established at the north-western end of the Gulf and, along with it, the way of life that 


would soon flower as Sumerian civilization. 


The floor of the Gulf 

Lambeck himself was convinced that there must be some connection between the 
flooding of the Gulf and ‘the Sumerian problem’: 

The early record is incomplete and numerous questions have been raised. Who were the Sumerians, where did they 
come from? When did they arrive? Did they arrive from a mountainous region beyond Iran or did they arrive by 
sea? Were they descendants from earlier Neolithic settlers in the region, from the Ubaid culture at 4500-3500 bc or 
from the even earlier Eridu culture at about 5000 bc [archaeologists often refer to the Eridu culture as ‘Ubaid I’ - 
i.e. the earliest stage of the Ubaid culture]. 1 Whatever directions the search for answers to such questions may 
take, a significant element in the puzzle must be the evolution of the physical environment of the Gulf itself. 104 

The last observation sounded particularly relevant to my concerns; however, Lambeck 
went on to qualify it by suggesting that the only epoch that historians and 
archaeologists really need to pay attention to is ‘the latter period of the flooding of the 
Gulf and the subsequent flooding of the low-lying delta region [the Flandrian 
transgression] when sea-level rose perhaps a few metres above its present level between 

6000 and 3000 yr bp ’. 105 If archaeologists were interested in the earlier period between 
18,000 years ago down to as recently as 7000 years ago - when a large part of the Gulf 
floor was still dry land - then they should focus on its role as a corridor of migration: ‘a 
natural route for people moving westwards from east of Iran. Is this the route travelled 

by the ancestors of the Sumerians?’ 106 

What Lambeck did not do, anywhere in his paper, was invite consideration of another 
possibility, even though it is suggested by some of his own data. This is the possibility 
that the dry floor of the Gulf could itself have been a place of permanent settlement at 
some point during the 11,000 years between 18,000 and 7000 years ago. 

If it was, then why shouldn’t an urban culture have evolved here, just as the myths of 
the antediluvian cities suggest? 

After all, orthodox archaeology has already accepted the existence of very ancient 
cities elsewhere in the Middle East - such as Catal Huyuk in Turkey (at least 8500 years 

old), Jericho in Palestine (more than 10,000 years old) 107 and, indeed, Eridu in 
Mesopotamia (where, as we’ve seen, the oldest shrines are thought to be about 7000 
years old). Knowing the inundation history of the Gulf as well as we now do, therefore, 
we cannot rule out the possibility that the ruins of cities that are literally ‘antediluvian’ 
could be concealed beneath its increasingly polluted, industrialized and militarized 
waters ... 


Persian Culf 
2 t,joo yean ago 



VO N 


fio'l 


Ur 


Pent an Culf 
1 6,400 years oro 




Dotted line represents projected course of Tigris-Euphrates through the Palaeo-Gulf. 





1 j, Persian Uulf 

t to,boo years ago 

Ur. ^ 


\ 



<SO*l 


Ur 






Persian (>ulf 
4H00 years ago 





In these and all inundation maps in this book, the black lines represent modem 
coastlines, the light tint is land and the dark tint is sea. 


A river ran through it 

During the period from the Last Glacial Maximum until about 10,000 years ago the Ice 
Age world was generally colder and more arid than it is today, with average 
temperatures depressed by several degrees even in tropical and equatorial zones. 
However, these conditions are likely to have been much less severe within the micro¬ 
region of the antediluvian Gulf - essentially a large, well-protected, low-lying valley. 108 
Its notable feature, which undoubtedly would have been a magnet for life of all sorts 









including human beings - was that the Tigris and the Euphrates flowed through it, 

united as a single mighty river. 109 The river’s course seems to have run along the 
northern side of the valley and at different periods appears to have passed through as 
many as three large, freshwater lakes in the Gulfs Western and Central and Eastern 

Basins. 110 It exited the Gulf through the narrows now known as the Strait of Hormuz and 

formed its delta on the Biaban Shelf to the east. 111 The delta was relatively small for 
such a large river, which suggests to scientists that it must have dumped most of its load 

of fertile alluvial silt in and around the shores of the lakes that it filled along the way. 112 
Over thousands of years this would have created areas of great natural fertility within 
the valley where agriculture, if practised, might have been extremely productive. 

For a while things could only get better and, despite the remorseless advance of the 
sea after the Strait of Hormuz was breached 14,000 years ago, conditions in the rest of 
the Gulf may for a long while have remained extremely pleasant. I was particularly 
interested to learn of a comprehensive study done in 1988 by the COHMAP group which 
showed that ‘the Indian monsoon system penetrated into the southern and eastern 
portions of south-west Asia during the period of 12,000 to 9000 years ago, and then 

retreated’. 113 The implication was that throughout this period the Gulf, along with other 
parts of south-west Asia, would have 

enjoyed both winter rains and in some areas also summer rains or ephemeral summer storms. This rainfall would 
have increased grazing opportunities, particularly in semiarid areas, but would have had little effect on the growth 
of winter cereals that formed a principal base of early agriculture. 114 

A protected valley ... a great river ... lakes ... fertile soils ... bountiful rainfall... The 
palaeo-climatological literature left me with the distinct impression that the Gulf around 
10,000 or 12,000 years ago could have been a very unusual place ... indeed a secret 
garden blessed with an ideal climate, offering nearly optimum conditions for the 
emergence of a civilization. 


A sea change 

What changed everything was the sea. As Lambeck tells it: 

By 14,000 yr bp the Hormuz Strait has opened up as a narrow waterway and the flooding of the lowlands to the west 
begins, first with the flooding of the Eastern Basin by marine water soon after 13,000 bp. Marine influence is first 
experienced in the Central Basin before about 12,500 bp ... The Western Basin lake remains free from marine 
incursion until about 11,500 bp. The northern part of the Gulf remains dry at this time, as does a vast area south of 
the palaeo-Gulf, although this plain contains numerous shallow topographic depressions. Until about 11,000 bp the 
northern part of the Persian Gulf floor would have been a relatively flat but narrow plain, hemmed in between the 
palaeo-Gulf and the southern foothills of the Zagros mountains forming the present coastline. 

As the sea-level rises the Gulf continues to expand and the marine influence spreads into the northern region. By 


about 10,000 bp the north-east margin of the Gulf has approached its present position in several localities, 
particularly east of about 52 degrees longitude. Much of the southern part of the Gulf remains exposed until about 
8000 bp and areas such as the Great Pearl Bank are not submerged until shortly after this time. 115 

I have deliberately chosen not to summarize Lambeck’s blow-by-blow account of the 
flooding of the Gulf, but to let him speak for himself. He does not dramatize or interpret 
his data but presents it neutrally, without speculation, as a good scientist should. 

I am not a scientist and I have a different approach. What I see here is first and 
foremost a mystery - the mystery of Sumerian origins - ‘the Sumerian problem’ as 
archaeologists like to call it. When I look closer I find that not only do we not know 
where the Sumerians came from but also that their language is unique in the world - 
apparently unrelated to any other known language. Closer up still and I learn that the 
Sumerians preserved traditions of a terrible flood that had nearly obliterated mankind 
from the earth and that had inundated the five antediluvian cities of their ancestral 
homeland. There had been survivors in a great ship who had been carried by the 
floodwaters to another land and had settled there in order to renew the ruined earth, 
replenish the seed of mankind, and preserve the ancient wisdom and the worship of the 
gods. For this reason those who later traced their line and religion from these survivors 
always remembered history as being divided into two periods - before and after the 
flood - and recorded the dynasties of their rulers in exactly the same way-with the list of 
the historical kings preceded by the list of the antediluvian kings, the latter reigning for 

a very long period. 116 

I review the archaeological literature for rational explanations of the Sumerian flood 
tradition and find that most of the experts agree it must have been rooted in some kind 
of historical truth; they point to the temporary inundation of Ur around 5500 years ago, 
either by gigantic river floods or by the marine incursion known as the Flandrian 
transgression. But when I look further and try to match up the details of the flood 
tradition to the archaeological facts I find that nothing really fits; nevertheless there are 
strange resonances between the evidence and the myths. 

For example, we’ve seen that Eridu, always named as the first and oldest of the 
antediluvian cities, was never flooded; yet the archaeological evidence does make it a 
strong contender, with its 7000-year-old shrines to the water-god Enki, for the title of 
‘oldest’ Sumerian city. 

Conversely, Ur, which is not mentioned in the flood tradition at all, was most 
definitely flooded around 5500 years ago. Shurrupak, which is named as one of the 
antediluvian cities, was likewise flooded, but not until 700 years later. 

So, for me, the theory that connects the Sumerian flood tradition with whatever event 
it was that flooded Ur is a ‘dog that don’t hunt’. I would honestly sooner conclude that 
the Sumerians had made the whole thing up than agree that they were so geographically 
ignorant and historically naive that they were incapable of distinguishing between a 
universal flood capable of wiping out humanity and a local flood - however large. Since 


we respect them so highly in other departments - as the builders of the world’s first 
schools, for example, the inventors of the world’s first bicameral congress, the compilers 

of the world’s first law codes, 11 etc. - shouldn’t we also respect the Sumerians’ own 
evaluation of the great deluge that they say swallowed up the cities of their ancestors so 
long ago in the past? 


A new hypothesis 

Then I come across Kurt Lambeck’s data. What it tells me is that the floor of the Persian 
Gulf was entirely exposed until as recently as 14,000 years ago, that between 12,000 
and 9000 years ago it would have been a veritable Garden of Eden, and that, despite 
continuous flooding, large areas of the Gulf floor remained above the waves until 
somewhere between 8000 and 7000 years ago. Since these included the Great Pearl 
Bank - between modern Dubai and Qatar near Bahrain - I find it difficult to believe it is 
a coincidence that deities with authentic Sumerian names were worshiped in ancient 
Bahrain or that the first definite evidence of an identifiably ‘Sumerian’ presence in Iraq 
is at Eridu around 7000 years ago - so soon after the Great Pearl Bank was inundated. 

In short, although I stress again that I’m no scientist, I believe that Kurt Lambeck’s 
data is strong enough to justify an entirely new hypothesis on the subject of ‘the 
Sumerian problem’. I think it’s time to consider seriously the possibility that the true 
story of Sumerian origins may have proved so elusive because it is veiled beneath the 
waters of the Persian Gulf. In that case, Eridu and the other four ‘antediluvian’ cities of 
Mesopotamia might well bear the same relationship to the original antediluvian cities of 
the Gulf floor as Halifax, Nova Scotia bears to Halifax, England or as Perth, Australia 
bears to Perth, Scotland. They could, in other words, have been named in memory of 
other, older cities somewhere else - normal, well-testified behaviour by migrants of 
almost all cultures in every epoch. Moreover, in this case we are not even required to 
imagine that the migration came from very far away but merely from the flooded 
lowlands of the Gulf towards the nearest higher and productive ground that was blessed 
by the same Tigris/Euphrates river system as the floor of the Gulf had once been. 

At this point I find that the hypothesis and the existing archaeological evidence begin 
to converge nicely. Yes, it seems to be true that Eridu stands out as one of the earliest 
‘nascent’ cities of Sumer, yes, the date of submersion of the Great Pearl Bank coincides 
quite closely with the date of foundation of the first shrines to Enki at Eridu, and yes, 
the Sumerians did have distinct memories of an advanced antediluvian culture that had 
been destroyed by a great flood. 

But still, the flooding of the Gulf was a long-term event, wasn’t it, spread out over 
more than 6000 years? Surely something that gradual, that predictable, is no more likely 
than the localized flooding around Ur 5500 years ago to have inspired the Sumerian 
tradition of the sudden world-destroying flood that threatened the survival of mankind? 

Before I attempted to test my Sumerian hypothesis further by trying to set up a proper 


diving expedition in the Gulf (written authorization required in triplicate from Saddam 
Hussein, the US Navy, the CIA, Texaco, the President of Iran, the King of Saudi Arabia, 
and the Emirs of Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and Dubai) I decided that I 
had to learn more about the behaviour of the world’s oceans in the key 7000-year period 
from roughly 14,000 to 7000 years ago. 

I knew already that this had been the peak period of the meltdown of the last Ice Age. 
I knew already that it had been a period of great turbulence and instability. It was 
therefore by no means impossible that something had happened at the global level 
during these millennia that could have projected a truly cataclysmic flood into the 
sheltered valley of the Gulf. 

In fact, as I was to discover, it could have happened more than once ... 



3 / Meltdown 


Athenian: Do you consider that there is any truth in the ancient tales? 

Clinias: What tales? 

Athenian: That the world of men has often been destroyed by floods ... in such a way that only a small portion of the 
human race survived. 

Clinias: Everyone would regard such accounts as perfectly credible. 

Plato, Laws, vol. I, book III 

It is clear that the [Beverley Lake] drumlins ... must have been submerged in the formative flow ... minimum 
depths of about 20 metres were required ... On a helicopter traverse along the north shore of Georgian Bay, a single 
field of bedrock erosional marks was noted that had a width of at least 50 kilometres ... [These] drumlins and 
erosional marks indicate meltwater floods that were competent to remove the largest boulders ... Flow widths, 
equal to the widths of drumlin and erosional-mark fields, were in the range of 60 to 150 kilometres ... Volumes of 
water required to sustain such floods would have been of the order of one million cubic kilometres, equivalent to a 
rise of several metres in sea level over a matter of weeks. 

John Shaw, Professor of Earth Sciences, University of Alberta 

As recendy as 20,000 years ago, North America had an array of large animals to rival the spectacular wildlife of 
modern Africa. Mammoths bigger than African elephants, as well as smaller, pointy-toothed mastodons, ranged from 
Alaska to Central America. Herds of horses and camels roamed the grasslands while ground sloths the size of oxen 
lived in the forests and bear-sized beavers built dams in the streams. By about 10,000 years ago, all of these animals 
- and others such as American lions, cheetahs, sabertooth cats and giant bears - were gone. Some 70 North 
American species disappeared, three-quarters of them large mammals. Why? 

Washington Post, 21 November 2001 

If you study the literature and talk to the experts on the last Ice Age, you will find that 
there are wide differences of opinion over such fundamental matters as the main 
sequence of events, the chronology and consequences of these events, and even the 
terminology used to describe them. 

The very idea of ‘the last Ice Age’ is poorly defined and is used differently by different 
authorities. For some it refers to the period from roughly 125,000 years ago, when the 
ice-caps of the northern hemisphere began their most recent advance, down to about 
21,000 years ago, when they reached their maximum extent (LGM - ‘the Last Glacial 
Maximum’) and then began to melt. Even here, though, there seems to be variation in 
the scientific literature, as I have seen the LGM dated as early as 25,000 years ago and 

as late as 18,000 years ago. 1 

Another school of semantics takes a longer view, pointing out that the ‘last Ice Age’ 
was merely the most recent surge in a boom-and-bust cycle of glaciations and 
deglaciations going back some 2.6 million years. To them it is this longer cycle that is 
the Ice Age - and it is not ‘the last Ice Age’ because we are still in it. They point out that 
the process of deglaciation after 17,000 years ago was extremely rapid - being largely 


over within 10,000 years - but not far beyond the norm set by previous deglaciations. 
Likewise, the relatively congenial conditions that we have enjoyed during the 7000 
years since then are perhaps a little better than those in some previous interglacials, but 
not spectacularly so. 

Although I am not concerned in this inquiry with epochs millions of years in the past, 
I note in passing how curiously the fortunes of the creature called man seem to be 
intertwined with the long chronology of the Ice Age: 

• The traces of our earliest, upright-walking ancestors of the genus Homo first begin 
to appear in the fossil record about 2.6 million years ago, when the great cycle of 
the current Ice Age began. 

• Another coincidence occurs approximately 125,000 years ago, the onset of the most 
recent surge of the ice-sheets. It is at about this time, or a little after, that the 
earliest remains of possible anatomically modern humans are found. 

• The earliest undisputed remains of anatomically modern humans are much more 
recent - perhaps 40,000 years old. This is around the same time that the first traces 
of classic European ‘cave art’ begin to appear - already mature and fully formed - 
in such locations as the Chauvet Cave in France. 

• The earliest undisputed remains of large-scale permanent settlements with 
monumental stone architecture are found around 10,000 years ago - Jericho for 
example, which stands in the Jordan valley in Palestine. Other impressive sites 
include Catal Huyuk in Turkey, dating to perhaps 8500 years ago. The whole idea 
of permanent settlement, however, does not seem to take very wide root until after 
about 7500 years ago. This is the time when the world’s climate begins to stabilize 
again after 10,000 years of unbelievable turbulence, melting ice and rising sea- 
levels. 

• The same chronology, more or less, and the same loose correlation to the end of the 
last glaciation, applies to accepted scientific models of the spread of agriculture. 

But does it? Or is it possible that important parts of the story of our past could have 
been veiled from us by the upheavals of the glacial cycle? 

Although I know that it was just the most recent of many glaciations, I use the term 
‘the last Ice Age’ to refer to the latest glacial expansion between 125,000 and 17,000 
years ago. When I use the term Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) I refer not to a specific 
moment but to a period of approximately 5000 years between 22,000 years and 17,000 
years ago during which the ice-sheets remained at or near their maximum extent. There 
was some melting and sea-level rise after around 19,000 years ago but the volume was 
relatively small and there was little impact on coastlines. What may truly be described 
as the epoch of the ‘meltdown’ began immediately afterwards - say 16,500 years ago - 
with the mass of ice-sheet wasting and associated sea-level rise complete by 7000 years 
ago. 



Before the flood 


Imagine the world before the flood. Seventeen thousand years ago, at the end of the 
Last Glacial Maximum, most of northern Europe and North America were buried under 
ice several kilometres thick. So much water was tied up in these continental ice-caps 
that global sea-level was between 115 and 120 metres lower than it is today. The 
antediluvian world, therefore, looked very different from the world we are familiar 
with. 

• A land-bridge joined Alaska and Siberia across what is now the Bering Strait. 

• It was possible to walk from southern England to northern France across the dry 
valley that would later become the English Channel. 

• Many more islands were exposed in the Mediterranean than are visible today and 
existing islands were much larger. Malta, for example, was certainly joined on to 
Sicily. Corsica and Sardinia formed a single huge island. 

• Further east, we’ve already seen that the whole of the Persian Gulf as far as the 
Strait of Hormuz was dry 17,000 years ago but for its great alluvium-rich river and 
its life-giving lakes ... 

• Further east still, India’s coastlines were much more extensive at the end of the last 
Ice Age than they are today and the shape of the subcontinent was strikingly 
different. Sri Lanka was joined to the mainland and south of Sri Lanka, sprawling 
across the equator, the Maidive islands were far larger than they are today. 

• Around modern Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines, and stretching as far north 
as Japan, lay the endless plains of ‘Sunda Land’, a fully fledged antediluvian 
continent. It was submerged very rapidly some time between 14,000 and 11,000 
years ago. 

• Up until about 12,000 years ago, the three main islands of Japan formed a 
continuous landmass. 

• In the southern seas lay the gigantic Ice Age continent of Sahul, formed out of the 
united landmasses of Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. 

• Across the Pacific the thousands of small, remote islands of today were integrated 
into much larger archipelagos 17,000 years ago. 

• In the western Atlantic, in the same epoch, the Grand Bahama Banks, now 
shallowly submerged, formed a huge plateau 120 metres above sea-level, and all of 

the Florida, Yucatan and Nicaragua shelves were exposed. 2 

In short, the habitable landmasses that modern civilizations have inherited from the 
meltdown of the last Ice Age only began to take their present form in the ten millennia 
between 17,000 and 7000 years ago. 

Before that, areas that are densely populated today, Chicago, New York, Manchester, 
Amsterdam, Hamburg, Berlin, Moscow - in fact most of North America and northern 


Europe - were absolutely uninhabitable due to the fact that they were covered by ice-caps 
several kilometres thick. Conversely, many areas that are uninhabitable today - on 
account of being on the bottom of the sea, or in the middle of hostile deserts such as the 
Sahara (which bloomed for about 4000 years at the end of the last Ice Age) - were once 
(and relatively recently) desirable places to live that were capable of supporting dense 
populations. 

Geologists calculate that nearly 5 per cent of the earth’s surface - an area of around 
25 million square kilometres or 10 million square miles - has been swallowed by rising 

sea-levels since the end of the Ice Age. 3 That is roughly equivalent to the combined areas 
of the United States (9.6 million square kilometres) and the whole of South America (17 
million square kilometres). It is an area almost three times as large as Canada and much 

larger than China and Europe combined. 4 

What adds greatly to the significance of these lost lands of the last Ice Age is not only 
their enormous area but also - because they were coastal and in predominantly warm 
latitudes - that they would have been among the very best lands available to humanity 
anywhere in the world at that time. Moreover, although they represent 5 per cent of the 
earth’s surface today, it is worth reminding ourselves that humanity during the Ice Age 
was denied useful access to much of northern Europe and North America because of the 
ice-sheets. So the 25 million square kilometres that were lost to the rising seas add up to 
a great deal more than 5 per cent of the earth’s useful and habitable landspace at that 
time. 

Now, imagine if you were to discover a hidden secret: the entire orthodox account of 
world prehistory as it is presented in the classroom, at university, through books and in 
the media has been created by archaeologists with no reference whatsoever to China 
and Europe, or to South America and the land-mass of the USA. Having missed out 
entirely such large areas from their excavations and research wouldn’t you feel that 
their conclusions about world prehistory and the story of the origins of civilization were 
likely to be - to say the least - flawed? Well, it is a similar story with the 25 million 
square kilometres lost at the end of the Ice Age. Marine archaeologists have barely even 
begun a systematic survey for possible submerged sites on these flooded lands. Most 
would regard it as a waste of time even to look. In consequence, whether in Australia or 
Europe, the Middle East, India or south-east Asia, the enormous implications of the 
changes in land-use and rising sea-levels between 17,000 and 7000 years ago do not 
appear ever to have been seriously considered by historians and archaeologists seeking 
the origins of civilization. 













The world at the l^ast 


Clonal Maximum 




A case history: the drowned 3 million square kilometres ofSahul 

Let’s look more closely at what happened to Sahul - also known as ‘Greater Australia’ - 
between approximately 17,000 and 7000 years ago. Much of the story has been 
unravelled by the work of Jim Allen, an archaeologist at Australia’s La Trobe University, 
and Peter Kershaw from the Department of Geography and Environmental Science at 

Monash University, Melbourne. 











Sahul at the Last Glacial Maximum. 


Until the end of the Last Glacial Maximum 17,000 years ago, and probably for several 
thousand years afterwards, New Guinea was fully integrated with the Australian 
continent across the Torres Strait and the Arafura Sea, Tasmania was fully integrated in 
the south - the Bass Strait then being dry land - and ‘other smaller, now offshore, 

islands were also incorporated’. 6 In total Allen and Kershaw estimate that Sahul of 
17,000 years ago extended ‘from almost exactly the Equator to nearly 44 degrees S and 

from 112 degrees E to 154 degrees E\ 

Then came the meltdown: 

Between circa 16,000 bp and 7000 bp Greater Australia was reduced in area by more than three million square 
kilometres - an area much larger than Mexico. Three major landmasses existed where previously there had been one 
... Coastal sites were either submerged or preserved on islands, while sites of the former arid interior became 
coastal ... In places the postglacial marine transgression reduced the width of the coastal plain by up to several 
hundred kilometres, thus presumably drowning many terminal Pleistocene sites in the process ...’ 8 

And how much else? There are, after all, a number of discontinuities and mysteries in 
the human story in Australia, not least the venerable antiquity of its first settlers - 
thought to date back as far as 50,000 years. Though there is no archaeological evidence 
whatsoever that a high civilization in the technical, material or urban senses ever 
flourished here before the modern era, there are certain aspects of Aboriginal culture 
that are frankly puzzling and do not fit in. These include evidence of sophisticated 
astronomical ideas from a very early date and the use of an ‘astronomical terminology’ 
that is also found in other very distant regions of the world. Thanks to the research of 
the Russian prehistorian Boris Frolov, for example, we must now ask ourselves whether 
it is a coincidence that indigenous tribal peoples as far afield as North America, Siberia 

and Australia all called the Pleiades star-group ‘the Seven Sisters’. 9 Frolov’s own view is 
that coincidence is not a satisfactory explanation and that only an extremely ancient 
shared heritage can account for this and many other thought-provoking parallels that he 

has uncovered. 14 But if Frolov is right, as the Cambridge anthropologist Richard Rudgley 
observes in his groundbreaking Lost Civilizations of the Stone Age, then the implication is: 

a tradition of communicable knowledge of the heavens that has existed for over 40,000 years, since a time roughly 
coinciding with the beginning of the Upper Palaeolithic. This is something that is extremely awkward for most 
widely accepted views of the history of knowledge and science - in short it is far, far too early for most people to 
accept. 11 

Of course, it is true that archaeologists excavating Australian terrestrial sites have not 
turned up any evidence there of the kind of social infrastructure that would normally be 
associated with the spread of a global astronomical tradition. But with more than 3 
million square kilometres of Greater Australia submerged between 16,000 and 7000 


years ago, and almost entirely unexplored by archaeologists, who can be sure what yet 
might be found? 


Floods and civilization 

Were the post-glacial ‘floods’ really floods at all? It doesn’t take a mathematical genius 
to work out that 120 metres of sea-level rise spread out over 10,000 years amounts to an 
average of not much more than a metre a century. Inconvenient, certainly ... But surely 
not enough to submerge and sweep away all traces of a great civilization? Surely not 
enough to inspire the global myth of the flood-so often accompanied, as it was in Sumer, 
by the unshakeable conviction that the gods had resolved to obliterate mankind? 

In previous books I have discussed the cycle of the Ice Ages. Over the past 2.6 million 
years, this cycle shows strong correlations with the (slowly changing) obliquity and 
precession of the earth’s axis and the varying degree of eccentricity of its orbit around 
the sun. Some scientists feel that these large-scale astronomical influences are sufficient, 
on their own, to explain the recurrent glaciations and deglaciations of our planet. 
Others feel that trigger factors must also be involved - extreme episodes of volcanism, 
asteroidal or cometary impacts, a realignment of the earth’s crust or mantle, and so on 
and so forth. 

Irrespective of the cause, however, there is no dispute about the biggest consequence 
of the meltdown of the last Ice Age: sea-level is now 120 metres higher than it was 
17,000 years ago. This, by any standards, represents a dramatic change in the 
distribution of habitats for human settlement and should, one might expect, be a matter 
of great interest to archaeologists. When I began to research this subject I was therefore 
surprised to learn that this is not at all the case: 

• only an infinitesimal amount of marine archaeology has been done along 
continental shelves (infinitesimal in relation to the total area of land submerged 
worldwide); 

• of the marine archaeology that has been done, the largest part has been focused 
upon the discovery and excavation of shipwrecks and of sites submerged in 

historical times; 

• with the exception of Robert Ballard’s exciting underwater survey of the Black Sea 
for the National Geographic Society, which got underway in 2000 and has been 
oriented directly towards an investigation of a colossal incursion of the 
Mediterranean through the Bosporus narrows 7500 years ago, marine archaeology 
has simply not concerned itself with the possibility that the post-glacial floods might 
in any way be connected to the problem of the rise of civilizations. 

I am aware that there is a new mood of political correctness amongst archaeologists 
and a willingness to accept, and state publicly, that the peoples of the Stone Age were 


neither ignorant savages nor lowbrow ‘cave men’ - although one need only spend a 
moment glancing at the transcendental art of Lascaux to realize that! But still it seems 
to me true to say that the great majority of archaeologists see no particular trend or 
connection that obviously links the ‘Palaeolithic’ way of life, 17,000 or even 12,000 
years ago, to the urban way of life that first appears at Jericho, Catal Huyuk and a 
handful of other sites between 10,000 and 7000 years ago. This is why, although they 
are certainly more open than they were before to the spirituality and high artistic 
culture of the ancients, archaeologists - almost without exception - do still assume that 
the population of the earth was at a uniformly hunter-gatherer level of social and 
economic development 17,000 years ago, and still about 7000 years away from 
founding the first cities. They therefore have no particular reason to be interested in the 
fact that millions of square kilometres of continental shelf were flooded in the 
intervening years, changing the face of the habitable earth completely. 

If, on the other hand, the level of development of different cultures in that period was 
not uniform (as is the case in the world today) and if one or several cultures had 
concentrated along the ancient sea-shores - or in any other areas which might have 
been rapidly and cataclysmically inundated - then it is possible that the post-glacial 
floods could have had enormous significance for the story of civilization. 

Moreover, the rise in sea-level of 120 metres over those 10,000 years between 17,000 
and 7000 years ago is large enough to have engulfed entire cities for ever and either 
demolished or covered up with millennial deposits of silt and muck all evidence of their 
former existence. If the waves rose slowly, such hypothetical cities would have been 
pounded for centuries in the high-energy intertidal zone which makes short work even 
of granite structures. But if the sea-level rise was due to some cataclysmic surge, then 
walls of water would have borne down on and crushed beyond recognition much that 
stood in their path. 


Many things happening at once 

It is hard to know where to begin to tell the story of the meltdown of the last Ice Age, 
because it is really many different stories woven together into a single fabric. 

• Part of it concerns large-scale climate flips, sudden radical thaws and equally 
radical freezes, volcanism on a planetary scale, earthquakes of unparalleled ferocity 
and mass extinctions of animal species. 

• Part of it, which I’ve already touched on, is the huge loss of habitable land, of low- 
lying coastal plains and fertile river deltas that occurred as the sea-level rose - a 
Tost continent’ scattered around the world like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle with a 
combined land area of 25 million square kilometres. 

• Part of it concerns the speed and the sheer magnitude of the post-glacial flooding. 

• Part of it is the need to understand the processes that led the earth into this 



devastating cycle of inundations. 

• Part of it is a complexity: yes, global sea-level did rise by about 120 metres between 
17,000 and 7000 years ago; no this ‘eustatic’ rise (i.e. pertaining to sea-level alone) 
has not been uniformly reflected in changing shorelines through time. Thus, in some 
parts of the world sea-level relative to ancient shorelines has remained quite stable 
for millennia; in others, submersion of a particular locality may be deeper than 
expected from eustatic changes; in yet others submersion may be shallower than 
expected from eustatic changes. Such variations can be caused by local land 
subsidence or land rise following earthquakes or volcanic activity; however, a much 
more potent and extensive agent of changing land-levels is known to geologists as 
isostacy. 


Kicking the gel-filled football 

The earth’s surface, which seems solid beneath out feet, can yield and deform when 
subjected to sufficiently large pressures. It behaves a bit like a football that has been 
loosely filled with a thick, heavy gel: pressure at one point on the gel-filled ball will 
result in an indentation in that area, a displacement of the fluid mass within and a 
corresponding rise in a roughly circular area surrounding the indentation. Geologists 
call this process isostacy, and it plays an important role not only during Ice Ages but 
also for thousands of years after all the ice has melted away. The reason it does so is 
that the vast weight of the ice-caps is sufficient to force down the earth’s crust into great 
basin-like depressions beneath them. When the ice melts, that pressure is suddenly 
removed and the floors of the basins begin to rebound; they will, if sufficient time is 
allowed, rise again to their original levels. 



> / — 

CONTINENTAL CRUST 



Isosutic subsidence forms a crustal depression 


Ice-loading causes a depression in crust under ice, and an isostatic bulge effect 
beyond it. Based on Wilson and Drury (2000). 


At the LGM 17,000 years ago, the ice-caps over large parts of North America and 
northern Europe were between 2 and 4 kilometres thick and applied loads of thousands of 

billions of tonnes to the continental landmasses on which they had formed. 13 Thomas 
Crowley and Gerald North, both oceanographers at Texas A&M University, observe that 




North America’s Laurentide ice-sheet 


extended from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic shore and from the Arctic Ocean southward to about the 
present positions of the Missouri and Ohio rivers. In Europe the Fennoscandian Ice Sheet reached northern 
Germany and the Netherlands. The weight of the massive ice sheets depressed the crust by as much as 700-800 
metres, resulting in gravity anomalies that are still detectable. 14 



The post-glacial world showing regions of isostatic rebound (light shade) and 
submergence (dark shade). Based on Wilson and Drury (2000). 


On average it has been found that 100 metres of ice-loading depresses continental 

crust by 27 metres. 1 But this is only part of the story. The water of the world’s oceans 
also has weight; indeed it is denser than ice. Thus, 100 metres of water-loading 

depresses the sea-bed beneath it by 30 metres. 16 Since all the ice formed on land during 
the last Ice Age was made out of water extracted from the sea, it follows that while the 
crust was pressed down beneath the continents, it actually rose up beneath the oceans 
(as the water-burden above it lightened). Conversely, after all the ice had melted and 
returned to the oceans as water, the burden on the sea-bed would have again increased. 
R. C. L. Wilson, Professor of Earth Sciences at Britain’s Open University, calculates that 
a layer of water 165 metres deep was subtracted from the oceans to make the great ice¬ 
caps of the last glaciation. This, however, only produced a net drop in relative sea-level 
of around 115 metres between the onset of glaciation 125,000 years ago and the onset 
of LGM 104,000 years later - the reason for the discrepancy being that reduced water¬ 
loading in the oceans during the Ice Age allowed the sea-bed to rise by 50 metres 

through the process of isostatic compensation. 

Let’s stop for a moment and take another look at this see-saw system swing by swing: 

1. 125,000 years ago the most recent glacial surge begins, turning a worldwide layer 
of ocean 165 metres deep into ice-caps thousands of metres high piled up (for the 
most part) in North America, Greenland, northern Europe, South America and the 






Himalayas. 

2. The maximum extent of ice formation is reached 21,000 years ago and largely 
maintained until 17,000 years ago; by this time the continental crust beneath the 
big ice-caps has been depressed into huge basins nearly a kilometre deep. 

3. Simultaneously, as the ice-burden on the land increases, the water-burden on the 
sea-bed decreases; by the Last Glacial Maximum this had allowed the ocean-floor 
around the world to rise by 50 metres. 

4. Soon after the LGM the ice begins to melt and to flow back as water to the oceans, 
a process that is substantially over within 10,000 years. 

5. Since a layer of water 165 metres deep was taken out of the oceans to begin with to 
make up the ice-caps, it follows that a layer of water 165 metres deep is returned to 
the oceans with the complete melting of the ice-sheets. 

6. Professor Wilson observes that the rate at which the crust and mantle respond to 
loading and unloading is ‘much slower than the build-up or melting of ice caps. This 
is why areas that were buried beneath several kilometres of ice 18,000 years ago 

are still rising today, thousands of years after the ice sheet melted away.’ 18 

7. It also follows that the average 50 metre rebound of the ocean floor between 
125,000 and 17,000 years ago would take thousands of years to be forced down 
again by isostatic subsidence to its original level. 

8. Measured at a warm point in a long interglacial, and after 17,000 years of isostatic 
subsidence, today’s sea-level is probably quite close to the final balance in the 
equation of rising seas and sinking sea-beds. But there must have been many times 
during the meltdown of the Ice Age when the speed of the former far outstripped 
any compensating effects of the latter. 

Is it not possible, perhaps even probable, that this combination of a higher sea-floor 
than today’s and rapid influxes of meltwater from the decaying ice-caps could have 
produced relative temporary rises in sea-level much greater than the average annual 
rate projected over the full period of the meltdown? 


See-saw 

Examples of segments of continental crust that continue to rise through isostatic 

rebound since the removal of the ice-sheets include the highlands of Scotland 19 (where 
the ice-cap that once covered most of Britain was at its thickest), the floor of the Gulf of 
Bothnia in what is now the Baltic Sea (reported to be rising at a rate of a metre per 

century), 20 large parts of the coasts and mainland of Sweden, Denmark and Norway, the 

north-east coast of Canada, 21 and parts of southern Chile. 22 

Complicating the picture is the fact that around each zone of ‘post-glacial rebound’, 


there lies what geologists call a ‘peripheral zone of submergence’-which is always larger 
than the zone of rebound. 23 Thus, while it is not uncommon to find such phenomena as 

raised beaches in the highlands of Scotland 24 (demonstrating graphically that areas that 
were once at sea-level, and formed an ancient coastline, have now been lifted well 
above it), other areas of the British Isles are visibly sinking into the sea. This is because 
the downward pressure of the Fennoscandian ice-sheet on the northern European 
continental crust at the LGM was transformed by the mechanism of isostatic 
compensation into a huge ‘forebulge’ several hundred kilometres beyond the ice-margin- 
literally as though one end of a see-saw had been forced down, pushing the other end 
up. As the ice melted the weight that was holding the end of the ‘see-saw’ down was 
released, allowing it to rise again and causing the other end - the ‘forebulge’ - to fall. 

This is exactly what is happening in the English Channel today, which we’ve seen was 
entirely dry at the LGM. The Isle of Wight stood on the forebulge of the Fennoscandian 
ice-sheet, forced upwards by isostatic compensation. Then when the ice-sheet melted, the 
dynamics of isostacy again came into play and the forebulge began to subside - taking 
the Isle of Wight (and much of southern England) down with it. 


Isostatic Atlantis 

An ingenious theory of the lost land of Atlantis, the first that I am aware of that is 
explicitly based upon the relationship between isostacy and rising sea-levels, was put 
forward in the late 1990s by Vitacheslav Koudriavtsev, a member of the Russian 
Geographical Society of the Russian Academy of Sciences. 

It is well known that the story of Atlantis was set in writing in the fourth century bc by 
the Greek philosopher Plato - in his dialogues Critias and Timaeus. But before that, Plato 
tells us, it had been an oral tradition passed down within his family from his ancestor 
Solon, the revered Athenian lawmaker. Solon had been told it during a visit that he had 
made to Egypt at around 600 bc . His informant, in turn, had been an elderly Egyptian 
priest at the Temple of Sais in the Delta, who said that he had drawn the information 
from written records, then more than 8000 years old, lodged in the temple’s archives. 

There are four essential ingredients in Plato’s story: 

• Atlantis was a relatively advanced, well-organized and prosperous civilization. 

• It flourished and was destroyed 9000 years before Solon’s time - in other words, 
approximately 11,600 years before our time. 

• It was located on a large island ‘opposite the Pillars of Hercules’ - presumed to be 
the modern Straits of Gibraltar. 

• Its destruction was the result of a global cataclysm: ‘There were earthquakes and 
floods of extraordinary violence, and in a single dreadful day and a night ... the 

island of Atlantis was ... swallowed up by the sea and vanished.’ 25 


There have been a thousand theories about the location of lost Atlantis, moving it 
around in time according to individual researchers’ whims and placing it everywhere 
from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge to Indonesia and from the Andes mountains to Crete. What 
Koudriavtsev is suggesting is just another theory. Nevertheless, it has the great merit of 
requiring no liberties to be taken with Plato’s text either in respect of the location of 
‘Atlantis’ (beyond the Straits of Gibraltar in the Atlantic Ocean) or of the date of its 
submergence - 11,600 years ago. 

Koudriavtsev’s location is an area known to fishermen as the Little Sole Bank, situated 
on a vast underwater plateau called the Celtic Shelf, 200 kilometres to the south-west of 
the British Isles and Ireland. Although the shallowest part of Little Sole Bank is now 57 
metres beneath the waves, and thus might be expected to have been about 60 metres 
above sea-level just before the end of the last Ice Age, Koudriavtsev’s research shows 
that it and a large area of the surrounding shelf may have been tilted dramatically 
upwards during the build-up to the Last Glacial Maximum by the see-saw effect of 
isostatic forces emanating from the continental ice-mass. In brief, his theory is that there 
was an unusually rapid collapse of the forebulge in this area around 11,600 years ago, 
coinciding with a ferocious episode of ice-melting and global flooding - the sudden 
inundation of Atlantis described by Plato. 

‘In my opinion,’ states Koudriavtsev, 

the most serious argument in favour of the assumption that Atlantis was not invented by Plato is that the time 
when it vanished, as indicated by Plato - about 11,600 years ago - and the circumstances of its vanishing described 
by him (the sinking into the deep of the sea), coincide with the findings of modern science about the end of the last 
Ice Age and the substantial rise of the level of the World Ocean that accompanied it. 26 


Three global superfloods 

Anyone who has read the Timaeus and Critias carefully knows that what Plato describes 
in his account of the destruction of Atlantis is indeed a global flood that took place 
approximately 11,600 years ago and that swallowed up huge landmasses as far apart as 
the eastern Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean. I would have thought that a first line 
of approach for scholars investigating Plato’s claims would be to find out whether 
anything on this scale might actually have happened in the world 11,600 years ago. So 
far as I can discover, however, not a single historian or prehistorian has ever made the 
effort to do so - although many of them have put forward theories, usually widely 
applauded by their peers, locating Atlantis anywhere but in the Atlantic, where Plato 
says it was, and any time within the epoch of recorded history, rather than considering 
the prehistoric date of 9600 bc given by Plato. One of the ludicrous (but positively peer- 
reviewed) claims put forward to divert the debate endlessly into trivia is that Plato 
meant 9000 months before Solon’s time, not 9000 years, when he spoke of the 
submergence of Atlantis. 

In my experience historians and archaeologists will go through Houdini-like 


contortions of reason and common sense rather than consider the possibility that their 
paradigm of prehistory might be wrong - so I am not surprised that they have never 
attempted to investigate at face value the Atlantis tradition of a devastating global 
flood 11,600 years ago. However, there are scholars - trained in other disciplines and 
not hobbled by the same preconceptions - who are more open to the possibility that the 
flood tradition in general, and the Atlantis story specifically, might be rooted in the real 
events of the meltdown of the last Ice Age. This view has been entertained positively by 
the late Cesare Emiliani, for example, former Professor in the Department of Geological 

Sciences at the University of Miami 27 - one of the pioneers of the isotopic analysis of 

deep-sea sediments as a way to study the earth’s past climates. 28 Moreover, Emiliani’s 
fieldwork in the Gulf of Mexico has produced striking evidence of cataclysmic global 

flooding ‘between 12,000 and 11,000 years ago’. 29 Robert Schoch, Professor in the 
Department of Geology at Boston University, observes that there was also a dramatic 

warming of the earth’s climate in the same period 30 - the ‘Preboreal’ - and that overall 
there is a 

stunning line-up in time between the sudden warming of 9645 bc , Emiliani’s scenario of a massive freshwater flood 
pouring into the Gulf of Mexico, and the date Plato ascribed to the sinking of Atlantis. Whatever the accuracy of 
specific details, this curious coincidence points to the effect sudden climatic changes can have - and no doubt have 
had - on civilization. 

Science writer Paul LaViolette likewise argues that ‘there may be much truth to the 
many flood cataclysm stories that have been handed down to modern times in virtually 
every culture of the world. In particular, the 9600 bc date that Plato’s Timaeus gives for 
the time of the deluge happens to fall at the beginning of the Preboreal at the time of 
the upsurge of meltwater discharge.’ 32 

Before rejecting the possibility of a lost civilization of the last Ice Age, therefore, I 
urge historians and archaeologists to take a close look at the mass of data that now 
exists about the sequence of cataclysmic floods that swept the earth between 17,000 and 
7000 years ago. 

Yet this too is a contentious area of debate. For while scientists now agree on the 
approximate figure of 120 metres for sea-level rise during the 10,000 years of post¬ 
glacial flooding, many do not accept that these were ‘floods’ at all - and certainly not in 
the cataclysmic sense. Averaging the rise over the time-span as we did earlier, they see a 
fairly gradual and distinctly non-cataclysmic process in the range of a metre a century. 
This remains the majority view. But since Emiliani’s findings first began to undermine it 
in the 1970s there has been more and more research to show how very cataclysmic the 
meltdown of the Ice Age could in fact have been. 

In brief what is being suggested is that during the long span of the meltdown - in 
addition to countless episodes of smaller-scale flooding - there were three global 
superfloocLs which have been dated within the following approximate time-bands: 


15,000-14,000 years ago, 12,000-11,000 years ago and 8000-7000 years ago. I have 
found that estimates of these dates vary by more than a thousand years either way, 
depending upon which authority you consult, but the general point is clear enough: 
there now exists a strong case that nearly half the total meltwater release at the end of 
the last Ice Age was concentrated into these three relatively short episodes, creating 
conditions of concentrated damage after long periods of stability - precisely the 
combination of circumstances and bad luck that could have led ultimately to the 

destruction of an antediluvian culture. 


Professor Emiliani’s ice dams 

Cesare Emiliani made many original contributions to scientific understanding of the 
meltdown of the last Ice Age. He was also among the first to work out the precise 
mechanism behind the characteristic ‘rhythm’ of this 10,000-year period - millennia of 
slow melting and gradual sea-level rises interrupted, apparently randomly, by much 
shorter episodes of extremely severe global flooding and rapid, destructive oceanic 
transgressions: 

During the last Ice Age, ice reached its maximum extension 20,000 years ago. Deglaciation started almost 
immediately and progressed rapidly. Sometimes ice meltwater would pile up behind an ice dam and when the dam 
collapsed a huge flow would follow. One such great flood occurred in the American northwest 13,500 years ago 
when an ice dam holding back about 2000 cubic kilometres of ice meltwater (Lake Missoula) collapsed. A huge 
mass of muddy water and debris rushed across the area into the Columbia River, cutting broad channels called 
coulees and forming the so-called Channelled Scabland ... As a result of the flood that formed the Scabland, the sea- 
level rose very rapidly, from minus 100 to minus 80 metres [vis-a-vis today’s level]. By 12,000 years ago more than 
50 per cent of the ice had returned to the ocean, and the sea-level had risen to minus 60 metres. At that point other 
giant floods occurred, down the Mississippi River valley into the Gulf of Mexico and down the Siberian river valleys 
into the Arctic Ocean. The Mississippi flood carried pebbles, which are now confined to the upper reaches of the 
Missouri-Mississippi system, all the way down to the delta. Sea-level rose very rapidly from minus 60 metres to 
minus 40 metres. 04 

The key phrase that caught my attention when I first read this passage was ‘ice dam’. 
It was very simple, and yet it explained so much. Averaged out over 10,000 years it was 
true that the total global sea-level rise of 120 metres at the end of the last Ice Age only 
amounted to a little more than a metre a century. But what Emiliani was now 
suggesting was the intriguing possibility that enormous quantities of the glacial 
meltwater could have been detained for thousands of years behind ice dams on 
continental Europe and continental North America - and then released into the open 
ocean all at once. 

The ice-caps that formerly covered these areas were up to 4 kilometres thick, as we’ve 
seen, and larger than present-day Antarctica in both cases. 35 Emiliani reminds us how: 


The weight of the ice on the land surface below created bowl-shaped depressions about 1 km deep. Heat from the 


interior of the earth was trapped under the ice sheets, the bottom ice melted, and great freshwater lakes formed. 
Twice in North America and western Siberia these lakes busted through the ice margins and created huge floods. 
Sea-level rose abruptly around 13,000 years ago and again 11,000 years ago and then more slowly as the residual ice 
continued melting. Some have hypothesized that these prehistoric floods generated the flood legends common to 
many civilizations. 6 



Between 8900 and 8200 years ago, the Laurentide ice-sheet disintegrated in the 
Hudson Bay, facilitating catastrophic drainage of the massive Agassiz/Ojibway glacial 
lakes into the Labrador Sea. Based on Barber et al. (1999). 


Professor Shaw’s abrupt steps 

John Shaw, Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Alberta, is one of the world’s 
leading experts on the last Ice Age and on its catastrophic meltdown. The author of an 
impressive list of peer-reviewed scientific papers, his research is at the forefront of 
inquiry in this field and has focused on the reasons for the superfloods. This is the 
graphic account that he gave us: 

The big ice-sheets that covered Canada, most of Scandinavia and much of northern Russia - instead of them being 
pure ice and rock - it seems that at a late stage there was rock at the bottom and then a sub-glacial lake or reservoir 
of water, then the ice. And it’s possible that when warming occurred, the top of the ice started to melt, and the 
ablation zone and the sub-glacial water got bigger and bigger and bigger. And yet for good reason the ice-sheet seals 
around the edges. And then one time the big system on top connects - it’s a little bit like a toilet bowl, you sort of 
open the valve and the water comes surging through. 











Graph of sea-level in the Caribbean against time since the LGM showing three abrupt steps around 14,000, 
11,000 and 8000 years ago. Based on Blanchon and Shaw (1994). 


(b) 


Sca-level use (mtti/yrl 
IO 20 )0 40 to 60 70 


L 


Sea level rise 
differentiated from 
Caribbean sca-lcvcl 



4 SO 475 soo 525 
Insolation |W/ra : l 


Graph of rate of sea-level rise against time since the LGM. Based on Blanchon and Shaw (1994). 

[In Canada on one occasion] the water literally came spewing out all over, except to the east of the Hudson Strait, 
because there was a big ice barrier there. So it came out southwards and through the St Lawrence, through the 
finger lakes, down through the Red river, South Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Lakes, and out through parts of 
Saskatchewan and out over the Milk river - which is the continental divide south of Alberta. The Milk river water 
flowed north to the Arctic, to the east to Hudson Bay, south to the Gulf of Mexico. And a huge amount of water 
went north into the Arctic Ocean. So you were suddenly introducing a vast amount of water to the oceans. And the 



duration of the flows was probably measured in weeks. And the kind of flow that we’re talking about, just for a 
small filament in Alberta, would have been 10 million cubic metres per second - that would drain Lake Ontario in 
about four days. And sea-level would have risen instantiy, and somewhere in the region of 10 metres. This is about 
15,000 years ago, when there were people living in many places. And the sea-level would have suddenly risen, and if 
you had lived by the sea-shore collecting jellyfish or something like that, and your house was suddenly underwater, 
you’d notice it. I imagine that it had quite an impression on the oral tradition and myths. 

So the big event came from under the ice about 15,000 years ago. And then about 11,000 years ago there was a big 
lake in the southern part of the ice-sheet called Lake Agassiz that covered a big part of Canada. There was an equally 
big lake called the Baltic Ice Lake in Scandinavia. And then recent evidence suggests that there were big lakes across 
northern Asia and the north of the Soviet Union. These lakes were dammed by ice and tended to drain very 
suddenly. And as a result you get a similar effect, with a sudden rise in sea-level. Then last of all, about 8,000 years 
ago, there was the last lake in North America associated with the Laurentide ice-sheet which is called Lake Ojibway, 
and it lay just south of the Hudson Strait. And that lake drained catastrophically. 

So originally it was thought that the rise of sea-level was steady at the end of the Ice Age, but now we are able to 
see that it rose abruptly in steps. 37 


Floods, volcanoes, earthquakes 

Professor Shaw’s ‘abrupt steps’ were, arguably, the most traumatic experiences of global 
cataclysm that our species has ever undergone. To those alive then, the end of the last 
Ice Age with its sudden global floods must have seemed like the end of the world. 
Continental plates were shifting upwards relieved of the weight of the ice they’d 
supported for 100,000 years. Huge earthquakes and outbreaks of volcanism 
accompanied this extensive crustal rebalancing. The earth would have rung like a bell 
with tremendous sounds and vibrations. The sky would have been heavy with volcanic 
dust and black, bituminous rain. And at the same time the oceans were remorselessly, 
apparently unstoppably, rising. One of the geo-climatological mysteries of the last Ice 
Age is that the period of the meltdown - roughly from 17,000 to 7000 years ago - was 
also a period of dramatically enhanced volcanic activity. A paper published in Nature in 
October 1997 draws particular attention to what at first sight seems like a bizarre 
correlation between the rate of global sea-level change and the frequency of explosive 
volcanism in the Mediterranean area - with a distinct episode of enhanced volcanic 
activity registered in the geological and palaeo-climatological records between 17,000 

and 6000 years ago: 

In areas where active volcanism and glaciation coincide, the correlation between the events can be explained by the 
effect of changing ice volumes on crustal stress. In contrast the effect of ice-sheet volume changes on unglaciated 
volcanic areas remains problematical. Several authors have proposed that meltwater loading and unloading could 
influence volcanic activity at sites distant from areas of ice-accumulation through the global redistribution of water, 
although this hypothesis has never been tested. 39 

The international team of scholars behind the Nature article counted tephra layers in 


deep-sea cores from the bottom of the Mediterranean (tephra is a general term for solid 
matter ejected during volcanic eruptions) and conclude that: 


The frequency of tephra-producing events and, by proxy, notable explosive eruptions at Mediterranean volcanoes, 
can be related to rapid variations in sea-level change. In particular we draw attention to the quiescent phase centred 
at 22,000 years ago and corresponding to the last low sea-level stand, and to the most intense period of tephra layer 
formation between 15,000 and 8000 years ago which accompanied the very rapid rise in post-glacial sea-levels. 40 

The authors think that ‘the existence of a single causal link between the rate of sea-level 
change and the level of explosive activity is unlikely’ and point out that ‘the unique 
response of individual volcanoes to large changes in sea-levels requires detailed study of 

each eruption record’. 41 Where this has been done, however, ‘The level of explosive 
eruptions is seen to fall to a marked low between 22,000 years ago and 15,000 years 

ago, coincident with the last low sea-level stand.’ 42 

I find it intriguing that the end of a 7000-year period of volcanic quiescence 15,000 
years ago, and the beginning of the period of violent eruptions, both overlap with the 
first of John Shaw’s global superfloods; likewise the end of the period of enhanced 
volcanic activity around 8000 years ago follows Shaw’s third and last superflood. 

Addressing this point, the scientists writing in Nature argue for broad-scale influences 
operating, for example, through 

stress changes in continental margins and at island arcs. These may promote the ascent of fresh batches of magma 
into volcanoes, while increased levels of regional seismicity related to load distribution may play a role in 
destabilizing already weakened volcanoes. 

On a global scale the number of volcanoes susceptible to the above-mentioned effects is large. Current spatial 
distributions of active volcanoes show that 57 per cent form islands or occupy coastal sites while a further 38 per 
cent are located within 250 kilometres from a coastline. Assuming a similar distribution for around 1500 volcanoes 
active during [the last Ice Age], then 1400 are likely to have been subject to the more direct effects of rapid sea-level 
change ... Furthermore, the rapidity of these sea-level changes, and consequently their potential to trigger responses 
in active volcanic structures, are only now becoming apparent. 4 

Despite its authors’ caution about identifying a single cause, the evidence set out in 
the Nature paper does suggest that the earth’s own isostatic rebalancing process, sparked 
off by the sudden meltdown of the ice-sheets and rapidly rising sea-levels at the end of 
the last Ice Age, must have been what awakened the volcanoes. The implication is that 
isostatic adjustment does not always proceed at a constant, steady rate - otherwise 
volcanism would presumably be constant as well - but must at times involve large, 
rapid shifts transmitting shock-waves through the earth’s crust powerful enough to set 
the volcanoes raging around the globe. 

It is precisely a shift of this speed and magnitude that Koudriavtsev envisages with his 
hypothesized ‘overnight’ collapse of the Celtic Shelf on the forebulge of the 
Fennoscandian ice-sheet 11,600 years ago. Moreover, researchers have found evidence 


that the meltdown of the same ice-sheet also unleashed tremendous forces during other 
periods of rapid worldwide flooding. At the time of Shaw’s third great flood around 8000 
years ago, for example, the stresses and earthquakes became so severe that immense 
waves were formed in the ground. One of these, in northern Sweden, is 150 kilometres 

long and 10 metres high and has been described as a ‘rock tsunami’ 44 that can only have 
been caused by ‘earthquakes of unbelievable magnitude’. 45 


Descent of hell 

Snaking across a bleak landscape, Sweden’s Parvie (‘wave in the ground’) as it is known 
locally, is a remarkable and somewhat disturbing feature, exactly resembling a three- 
storey-high tsunami made of solid rock caught forever in freeze-frame as it rears up just 
before breaking. The most remarkable - and disturbing - thing about it, however, is that 
this part of northern Sweden is a zone of extremely low seismicity and stands on what 

geologists define as a ‘stable continental region’ (SCR) of the tectonic plate. 46 There 
should be no reason for catastrophic earthquakes ever to happen in an SCR. Yet the 
evidence unambiguously demonstrates that a catastrophic earthquake - indeed ‘the 

largest earthquake ever known within the stable continental regions’ 47 - did throw up 
the Parvie: 

Studies over the last two decades show that it formed suddenly by earthquake faulting in the late glacial to early 
postglacial times of the great Fennoscandian ice sheet (approximately 8000 to 8500 years ago), suggesting a genetic 
relationship between the two. 48 

The precise nature of this relationship and the true magnitude of ‘post-glacial faults’ 
(PGFs) such as the Parvie have been studied by Ronald Arvidsson of the Seismological 
Department of Uppsala University. He has shown that such faults - of which there are a 
whole series in northern Sweden - frequently cut as far as 40 kilometres deep into the 
earth’s crust All were caused by different gigantic earthquakes and all these earthquakes 

occurred within the same thousand-year period between 9000 and 8000 years ago. 

Arvidsson’s widely agreed estimate is that the Parvie quake measured 8.2 on the 

Richter scale. 50 Another scholar, Arch C. Johnston of the Centre for Earthquake Research 
at the University of Memphis, points out that quakes of this magnitude only occur today 
along the edges of tectonic plates. The force that formed the Parvie ground-wave must, 
therefore, have been enormous: 

The Fennoscandian PGF’s are ... a remarkable consequence of rapid crustal unloading as the ice-sheets of the last Ice 
Age melted. The Parvie and other PGF’s ... represent the faults of induced earthquakes, events that would not have 
happened without externally-imposed ... conditions. 81 

Johnston then goes on to note that, although ‘induced seismicity’ is known today, 


the post-glacial earthquakes are easily the largest known examples of this class. Surface quarrying can generate 
earthquakes of 2 to 4 [on the Richter scale]; 52 deep mining and deep-well waste disposal 5 to 6 events; and large 
hydro-reservoirs mid 6 events. Excluding PGF’s there are no earthquakes exceeding 7 confidently considered 
induced. The earthquake magnitude seems to scale with the agent of change of crustal stresses: great ice-sheets can 
induce great earthquakes. 53 

Now a characteristic of the Richter scale, not widely understood by those who live 
outside earthquake zones, is that it is calibrated so that each increase of one unit 

represents a tenfold increase in the magnitude of the quake. 54 So a 2 is ten times bigger 
than a 1, a 3 is ten times bigger than a 2, a 4 is 10 times bigger than a 3, and so on. The 
earthquake that hit Kobe in Japan on 17 January 1995, killing more than 5000 people 

in twenty seconds, measured 7.2." With a Richter scale value of 8.2, the Parvie quake 
was ten times bigger than Kobe. The largest earthquakes ever recorded on the scale - 
rare events in subduction zones under oceans or between continental plates - have not 

exceeded the value of 9. 56 

The clear implication of Arvidsson’s and Johnston’s research, therefore, is that crustal 
rebound and isostatic rebalancing did at times take place very rapidly as the ice-caps 
melted down into cascading floods - rapidly enough to trigger extremely violent 
earthquakes and sudden massive faulting (penetrating to hitherto unheard-of depths of 

40 kilometres and radiating laterally for up to 160 kilometres). 5 Writing up his findings 
in Science magazine, Arvidsson concludes: 

I interpret the earthquakes as signs of a progressive rapid rise of the land from the centre of postglacial rebound ... 
to the outer reaches of the ice-sheet ... More than 9000 years ago a nearly isostatic equilibrium was reached due to 
the depression of the lithosphere by the ice. After a quick removal of the ice-sheet a non-isostatic condition caused 
compressional stresses within the crust which triggered the earthquakes. 58 

Since the Parvie is only one of many giant post-glacial faults associated with the 
collapse of the Fennoscandian ice-sheet, what Arvidsson is really talking about - I think 
- is the descent of hell in northern Europe for a reign of 1000 years centred on 8000 
years ago. As we follow his evidence, we must envisage extraordinary scenes of 
geological turmoil in which continuous deep tremors vibrate all the way through the 
Baltic Shield crust and the earth repeatedly roils, fractures, rears up and collapses - 
seemingly about to tear itself apart ... While this is happening the ancient ice-cap over 
Fennoscandia is in a state of runaway meltdown, close now to the point of total 
collapse, and huge chunks of decaying ice the size of islands are falling into the sea, 
generating cataclysmic displacement waves. The ice-cap over North America is behaving 
in much the same way ... 

And let’s not forget that the earth by this time - 8000 years ago - has already suffered 
the consequences of 7000 years of intense volcanism, 7000 years of rising sea-levels and 
sudden and unpredictable marine floods, 7000 years of continental shelves, land-bridges 
and islands vanishing beneath the waves, and 7000 years of spectacular climatic 


instability. Indeed, the palaeo-climatological record testifies to all of the following - and 
much more - between 15,000 and 8000 years ago: cold oceans, high winds, mountains 

of dust in the atmosphere 59 and wildly unpredictable temperature shifts. 

To give an example of the latter, Romuald Schild of the Polish Academy of Sciences 
cites an abrupt warming that took place in the northern Atlantic at around 12,700 years 
ago, stopped and equally abruptly went into reverse 10,800 years ago - when there was 
a sudden 800-year plunge to almost full glacial temperatures - then turned again to 

another episode of abrupt warming about 10,000 years ago. Robert Schoch reports 
that the bulk of the first warming ‘approximately 27 degrees Farenheit, a massive 
increase’ - occurred after 11,700 years ago: 

Remarkably, the ice-core data suggests that half of the temperature change, in the neighbourhood of 14 degrees 
Farenheit, occurred in less than 15 years centring around 9645 bc. That’s a bigger temperature increase, and faster, 

than the scariest doomsday scenario about global warming in the twenty-first century. 62 

It also happens to coincide, almost exactly, with Plato’s date of around 11,600 years 
ago for the sinking of Atlantis, when, the reader will recall, ‘There were earthquakes 
and floods of extraordinary violence, and in a single dreadful day and night ... the 

island of Atlantis was ... swallowed up by the sea and vanished.’ 63 


‘You remember only one deluge 

I’m not trying to ‘find’ Atlantis, or even to guess where it might have been located - if it 
ever existed at all - since it is well known that such inquiries lead to madness. I prefer 
to treat it like any other archaic flood account, whether in the form of myth or 
purporting to be history, and to consider it solely in terms of its general level of 
plausibility - a task made easier by its unusual detail and precision. What it tells me at 
that level is at least the following: 

1. A devastating global flood occurred around 11,600 years ago. This is interesting, the 
date coincides with the second of John Shaw’s super-floods and with Cesare 
Emiliani’s data from the Gulf of Mexico. 

2. The flood was accompanied by enormous earthquakes. This is plausible because of the 
close correlation between huge earthquakes, enhanced volcanism, rapid ice melting, 
and fast post-glacial flooding. 

3. The island of Atlantis was swallowed up by the sea and vanished in a day and a night. 
We have seen how isostatic rebalancing sometimes occurred very rapidly and 
cataclysmically at the end of the last Ice Age and how it is theoretically possible 
that intense isostatic subsidence in a suitably weakened area of the earth’s crust 
could have brought about just such a sudden collapse as Plato describes. 

There is one further element of the story that also resonates with scientific evidence, and 


this is that the flood that destroyed Atlantis 11,600 years ago was but one of many 
floods ... 

Remember that the source of the Atlantis tradition is supposed to have been an 
ancient Egyptian priest, in conversation with Plato’s ancestor Solon. Here’s how Plato 
reports the exchange in the Timaeus: 

Egyptian priest: Oh Solon, Solon, you Greeks are all children, and there’s no such thing as an old Greek. 

Solon: What do you mean by that? 

Egyptian priest: You are all young in mind, you have no belief rooted in old tradition, and no knowledge hoary with 
age. And the reason is this ... With you, and others, writing and the other necessities of civilization have only just 
been developed when the periodic scourge of the deluge descends and spares none but the unlettered and the 
uncultured - so that you have to begin again like children, in complete ignorance of what happened in early times 
... You remember only one deluge, though there have been many ... 64 

As a general synopsis, I have to say that the priest’s comments fit reasonably well 
with the three global superfloods and countless lesser deluges that we now know did 
occur at approximately 15,000, 11,000 and 8,000 years ago. Moreover, his placing of 
the Atlantis flood anywhere in this period (the only period in the last 125,000 years 
when there actually were floods of the kind described) is - if you stop to think about it - 
quite an achievement in itself. 


An aggressive little bugger from Yorkshire ... 

We’ve seen that it was Cesare Emiliani who first drew serious attention to the possibility 
of post-glacial superfloods. In a paper published in Science magazine in 1975, he and a 
group of colleagues presented startling evidence from deep-sea cores from the north¬ 
eastern part of the Gulf of Mexico. The evidence revealed ‘a 2.4 per cent isotopic 
anomaly between 12,000 and 11,000 years ago’, which the authors correctly interpreted 
as having been caused by ‘the occurrence of major flooding of ice meltwater into the 

Gulf of Mexico ... centring at about 11,600 years before the present’. 65 

At the time Emiliani’s ideas were not well received. As Isaac Asimov was later to 
comment: ‘The suggestion was largely ignored because it was difficult to imagine the ice 
melting that fast, but in 1989, John Shaw ... made a suggestion as to just how such 

floods might come about ...’ 66 I thought that I had already fully understood Professor 
Shaw’s catastrophic scenario of how the three great deluges were caused by sudden 
releases into the world ocean of pent-up meltwater from behind ice dams. But as I 
looked more closely at his research, and at the transcript of the lengthy interview he had 
given us in February 1999, I began to realize that his story had hidden complexities and 
that the cataclysms he described could have been far more severe than I had initially 
supposed. For it was not just a matter of very rapidly rising seas submerging and 
washing away low-lying coastal areas - although there was an immense amount of that! 
- but also of the true character and extent of the run-off floods on land as the ice-caps 


melted down and the glacial lakes burst their ice barriers. 

Shaw’s interest in this problem does not begin with floods but with drumlins: 

Drumlin: elliptical, streamlined hill composed of till [unstratified glacial deposit consisting of boulder clay and rock 
fragments of various kinds] deposited beneath moving glacial ice. Drumlins commonly are found in clusters with 
their long axes roughly parallel to the direction of the ice movement. They slope steeply in the direction from 
which the glacier came and gently in the direction in which it moved. They vary in height from 6 to 60 metres and 
in length up to several miles ... Drumlin fields may contain as many as 10,000 drumlins; one of the largest fields is 
in the north-western plains of Canada. 6 

Based at the University of Alberta, Professor Shaw has Canada’s drumlins at his 
doorstep, at least in a manner of speaking, so it’s not surprising - as a geologist - that 
he should have views about them. But the reactions that his views have elicited amongst 
other geologists are harder to understand: 

When I go to conferences, people yell at me, people get angry and they yell and scream, and are constantly bringing 
in diversions because they don’t want the story to be told. And being an aggressive little bugger from Yorkshire 
anyway, I tend to fight back. 6,5 

At a recent conference in Sweden a senior Quaternary geologist instructed Shaw: ‘Don’t 
bring your ideas here’: 

So I looked at him and grinned, and next day I gave the paper. And then it was rejected and not published in the 
conference proceedings so I put it on the Net, and that’s where it is now ... If I were a young assistant professor I 
wouldn’t be kept and I wouldn’t have published either and people would say my ideas were barmy. 69 

What, one might ask, is all the fuss about? It seems hard to believe that geologists could 
come close to excommunicating such a senior and widely respected colleague as 
Professor Shaw simply for expressing an original scientific opinion on the matter of 
elliptical, streamlined hills. I mean, who cares? 

In fact, we should care, says Shaw, because the drumlins and other ‘hummocky’ 
landforms strewn across Canada are evidence of continental floods of biblical 
proportions - floods of water in some cases hundreds of metres high-that roared out 
from beneath the ice-caps during the last deglaciation, destroying or mangling 
everything in their path. Shaw explicitly suggests that many elements of the universal 
myth of the deluge may be explained by such floods pouring down off the land - 
intimately linked, as they were, to the episodes of sudden and ferocious sea-level rise 

that took place between 15,000 and 8000 years ago. 0 


Slow and gentle or fast and furious? 

Although there is no single explanation for the formation of drumlins to which all 
geologists subscribe, most see them as the result of a relatively slow subglacial process 


involving first the lodgement of a huge mass of ‘till’ on the bedrock beneath the glacier 
and subsequently its moulding into the classic ‘streamlined-hill’ shape by the flow of the 

ice itself. Such gradualistic theories have dominated the earth sciences and 
archaeology since the end of the nineteenth century, creating an exceptionally difficult 
environment in both disciplines for the exploration of alternative hypotheses requiring 
any kind of sudden change or catastrophic agency. Because John Shaw’s theory requires 
both, it was inevitable that it would face stern opposition. Nevertheless, he has stuck to 
his guns since first putting his ideas forward in the 1980s and has gradually seen a 
convergence of evidence building up in his favour, including ‘subglacial landforms, 
surface water isotopic composition of the Gulf of Mexico, and the sedimentology of cores 

from the Gulf’. 72 

At risk of reducing a massively documented and complex argument to statements of 
ludicrous simplicity, I think it is fair to say that Shaw himself does not claim to have 
found any definitive, all-inclusive explanation for the formation of drumlins but believes 
them to be features that are caused in different ways by different kinds of cataclysmic 
floods and not, as has traditionally been thought, by ice moulding. For example, ‘on the 
evidence of form and structure’, his interpretation of the Livingston Lake drumlins in 
northern Saskatchewan is that they are ‘infills of inverted erosional marks scoured in the 

ice-bed by subglacial meltwater’. 73 In other words, forget about the old notions of 
‘lodgement’ and ‘moulding’ that generations of geologists have had hard-wired into their 
logic-circuits. Consider the possibility, instead, that the end of the Ice Age was much less 
genteel - as, indeed, we already know that it was in almost every other measurable 
characteristic that we have encountered - and that the vast drumlin-fields at Livingston 
Lake were created by apocalyptic meltwater floods. 

This is precisely Shaw’s scenario and he believes that the ‘subglacial land-forms’ - i.e. 
the drumlins themselves - are his most powerful evidence: 

When I first looked at drumlins - this is how it all started for me really - I thought, My, they look just like erosional 
forms on the sea-bed - which are negative forms of course - but these ones are positive. How can that be? Then the 
idea came to me, OK, if you erode upwards into the ice and then fill in the cavities with sediment that’s what you 
would get. And so we went and dug holes and found out that the sediment corresponded to filling in from below and 
very catastrophically. 74 

In brief, Shaw’s argument is that at certain stages during the collapse of the Laurentide 
ice-sheet between 15,000 and 8000 years ago, parts of the slowly moving ice-mass - 
more than 3 kilometres thick and weighing as much as a giant mountain range - must 
have rested not on bedrock but on a deep layer of meltwater moving at high speed and 
under enormous pressure. These ‘turbulent-flows’ would have carried with them 
tremendous volumes of sediment ranging from finely grained clays to huge stones and 
boulders, and it is easy to see how a cavity eroded into the base of the ice-mass - where 
it rested on the running water - would quickly have become filled up and densely 
packed with sediment forced in from below. The result, like any object created in a 


mould, would have taken on the characteristic shape of the mould - which in the case of 
this kind of erosion is streamlined, elliptical and hill-shaped - and might then have been 
sealed within the ice, and carried further by it, until it was ultimately released by 

generalized melting. 5 



Different kinds oflandforms created by subglacial meltwater floods of varying depths. 
Based on Shaw (1998). 


Take a few thousand such objects of varying sizes, dump them in northern 
Saskatchewan, and you have the Livingston Lake drumlin-field. 

Shaw believes that other drumlin-fields in Canada have been created in a different 
way - again involving glacial meltwater rather than ice, but this time as a direct 
erosional agent on bedrock or depositional landforms: 

Drumlins around Peterborough and Trenton, Ontario, are mainly erosional; their internal stratigraphy is relatively 
undisturbed ... Drumlins in Ireland contain complex glacigenic sequences ... The form of these Irish drumlins ... is 
almost entirely erosional. 6 

Returning again to his notion of powerful floods running under immense pressure at 
the base of the ice-sheets, Shaw draws attention to the drumlins of Beverley Lake field in 
Canada’s Northwest Territory, which he suggests were sculpted by these floods, and to 
erosional marks - also caused by floodwater-in the bedrock near Kingston, Ontario: 

Concerning the depth of the flow, it is clear that the [Beverley Lake] drumlins ... must have been submerged in the 
formative flow ... minimum depths of about 20 metres were required ... Erosion marks in the bedrock in the 
Kingston area, Ontario, indicate subglacial meltwater flows that have widths of more than 60 kilometres. 
Spectacular erosional marks along the north shore of Georgian Bay, Ontario, also indicate broad subglacial 
meltwater flows. On a helicopter traverse along the north shore of Georgian Bay, a single field of bedrock erosional 


marks was noted that had a width of at least 50 kilometres ... [These] drumlins and erosional marks indicate 
meltwater floods that were competent to remove the largest boulders ... Flow widths, equal to the widths of 
drumlin and erosional-mark fields, were in the range of 60 to 150 kilometres. 77 

I think it is worth re-emphasizing Shaw’s figures, and their implications. He is talking 
about turbulent, energetic floods 20 metres deep flowing in vortices at high speed and 
pressure, under the main ice-sheets, across fronts up to 160 kilometres wide. Only floods 
on such a scale and of such violence could have sculpted the drumlin-fields and 
hummocky terrain and tortured pitted scablands of Canada and the United States and 
carved out other remarkable features such as the extremely large through valleys - 
including those containing the Finger Lakes - that lie to the south of drumlin-fields in 

northern New York State. 8 ‘Volumes of water required to sustain such floods’, observes 
Shaw, ‘would have been of the order of one million cubic kilometres equivalent to a rise of 

several metres in sea-level over a matter of weeks.’ 79 


Drowned coral and floating ice 

Of course, when water flows under ice, severing its connection to bedrock, the ice begins 
to move - ‘surge’ is the technical term: 

Subglacial meltwater sheets with thicknesses of several tens of metres occurred over vast areas of the Laurentide Ice 
Sheet. The decoupling of glaciers from their beds as a consequence of increased water pressure is used increasingly 
to explain their rates of sliding. The scale of this process implied here is much larger than that considered for 
modern glaciers. Nevertheless, the effects should be similar ... In short, the glacier is expected to surge. 80 

There is indeed compelling evidence of a series of massive glacial surges at the end of 
the last Ice Age. These correlate with meltwater pulses and peaks of sea-level rise, 
recorded, for example, in ‘drowned’ reefs of Acropora palmata from the Caribbean- 
Atlantic region near the island of Barbados. Acropora is an efficient tracker of rising sea- 
level because it is a light-loving coral that dies at depths greater than about 10 metres. 
The Barbados reefs were drowned three times at the end of the last Ice Age - at 

approximately 14,000, 11,000 and 8000 years ago 81 - and so suddenly and deeply on 
each occasion that they now form three distinct steps, one for each flooding peak 
(rather than having crept towards shallower water as would have been the case with 
more gradual sea-level rises). Shaw and his colleague Paul Blanchon at the University of 
Alberta conclude in a 1995 paper in Geology that the reef data confirm: 

three catastrophic, metre-scale sea-level rises during deglaciation. By converting radiocarbon-dated marine and ice- 
sheet events to a sidereal chronology we show that the timing of these catastrophic rises is coincident with ice- 
sheet collapse, ocean-atmosphere reorganization and large-scale releases of meltwater. 

There is also evidence that a cataclysmic feedback mechanism may have been at work 
between even relatively small eustatic sea-level rises due to meltwater alone and much 


larger and more sudden events caused by the destablization of entire ice-sheets 

extending over continental shelves. 83 Indeed, in an article in Nature, geologists D. R. 
Lindstrom and D. R. Macayeal go so far as to identify ice-sheet mechanics ‘as a 

controlling factor in meltwater production’. 84 They then make the very radical and 
original suggestion that: 

sudden and significant changes in sea-level due to the floating of formerly grounded ice-sheets and attendant ice- 
dome drawdown might have accompanied the meltwater pulses and these ‘jumps’ in sea-level might not have been 
recorded in the reef accretion data. Thus a logical mechanism exists by which sea-level may have risen faster and to 
higher levels than represented by the reef-accretion histories at Barbados. 85 

In other words global floods that already appear to have been extremely sudden and 
severe on the basis of the coral-reef data alone - and each ‘drowning’ event required a 

minimum instantaneous sea-level rise of 5 metres before it would take effect 86 - may 
temporarily have been several magnitudes more severe than the coral-reef record shows. 
Shaw and Blanchon suggest that a global eustatic hike in sea-level of between just two- 
tenths and four-tenths of a metre in a period of a few weeks would have been ‘sufficient 
to free grounded ice and stimulate further ice-sheet wasting, additionally elevating sea- 

level on the order to 5 to 10 metres or more’. 87 


Armadas of icebergs 

Induced by sudden sea-level rises, such sudden wasting at the sea-margins of the ice- 
sheets would have manifested in equally sudden launchings of fleets of gigantic icebergs. 
In 1988 the German oceanographer Hartmut Heinrich was the first to come up with the 
firm geological evidence for such a cataclysmic ‘iceberg-calving’ process during the last 
Ice Age. By examining deep-sea drill cores sampled at various points across the North 
Atlantic he demonstrated the existence of widely dispersed layers of ‘ice-rafted detritus’ 
- millions of tonnes of rocks and rocky debris that had once stood on land, that had 
been clawed up by the ice-sheets and that had ultimately been carried out to sea frozen 
into huge icebergs: 

As they melted they released rock debris that was dropped into the fine-grained sediments of the ocean floor. Much 
of this ice-rafted debris consists of limestones similar to those exposed over large areas of eastern Canada today. The 
Heinrich layers as they have become known, extend 3000 kilometres across the North Atlantic, almost reaching 
Ireland. 88 

The Heinrich layers record at least six separate discharges of ‘stupendous flotillas of ice¬ 
bergs’ 89 into the North Atlantic - discharges that are now known, obviously enough, as 
‘Heinrich Events’ and that are thought to have unfolded in concentrated bursts of 

activity that may, in each case, have lasted less than a century. Because of the 
progressive thickening of the Heinrich layers towards the western side of the Atlantic 


and the continuation of this trend into the Labrador Sea in the direction of Hudson Bay, 
it is obvious to geologists that ‘much of the floating ice was sourced from the Laurentide 

ice-sheet’. 91 

However, other debris has been found intermingled in some Heinrich layers that 
‘could only have come from separate ice-sheets covering not only Canada, but 

Greenland, Iceland, the British Isles and Scandinavia’. 92 Likewise, research into southern 
hemisphere ice-caps in the Andes and New Zealand shows that these too ‘grew and then 

collapsed synchronously with the ice-rafting pulses recorded in the North Atlantic’. 93 The 
implication, admits Professor R. C. L. Wilson of Britain’s Open University, is that some 

‘global rather than regional forcing of climate change’ must have been at work. 94 

With this reminder of the interconnectedness of all the great ice-sheets of the last 
glaciation - and the broad similarities of all their biographies - let’s take a closer look at 
one of them. What happened to it also happened, to a very similar degree, to all of the 
others. Its apocalypse is therefore the end of the Ice Age in cameo. 


Laurentide 

Thomas Crowley and Gerald North, oceanographers at Texas A&M University, describe 
the melting of the great ice-sheets at the end of the last Ice Age as ‘one of the most rapid 

and extreme examples of climate change recorded in the geologic record’. 91 As we have 
seen, most of the changes were concentrated into a period of just 7000 years between 
15,000 and 8000 years ago. Like the other ice-sheets, the Laurentide did not really go 
into meltdown until after 15,000 years ago, and like the others it experienced three 
primary episodes of collapse correlating closely with Professor Shaw’s three global 
superfloods (at approximately 15,000, 11,000 and 8000 years ago). 

It is known that an immense meltwater reservoir in the Laurentide ice-sheet was 
catastrophically released between 15,000 and 14,000 years ago: 

The volume of water discharged produced regional-scale fields of drumlins, giant-flu tings and extensive tracts of 
scoured bedrock. Such large amounts of meltwater could potentially destabilize ice sheets grounded below sea- 
level. 96 

The period between 13,000 years ago down to about 10,000 years ago saw recurrent 
outburst-flooding from a series of glacial lakes and lake complexes in the Laurentide - 
notably glacial Lake Agassiz which ‘periodically emptied into the Gulf of Mexico via the 

Minnesota spillway and the Mississippi drainage basin’. 9 The reader will recall 
Emiliani’s evidence for a peak flooding event of Laurentide meltwater into the Gulf at 
around 11,600 years ago. Within a thousand years of that date glacial Lake Missoula (in 
Montana in the western United States) also underwent one of its periodic outbursts, 
sending what Crowley and North calculate to have been ‘a wall of water 600 metres 


high on to the Columbia plateau of eastern Washington’. 98 

Another series of large outburst floods occurred around 9400 years ago. According to 
Charles Fletcher and Clark Sherman of the Department of Geology and Geophysics at 
the University of Hawaii, each event added an estimated 4000 cubic kilometres of water 

to the world ocean. 9 By 8400 years ago yet more calamitous melting had allowed Lake 
Agassiz to merge with its formerly separate (and almost equally massive) eastern 
neighbour, Lake Ojibway. This confluence created a titanic inland sea, with a surface 
area of more than 700,000 square kilometres, poised behind an ice dam over Hudson 

Bay at elevations of between 450 and 600 metres above sea-level. 100 

At some point between 8400 and 8000 years ago the dam broke and the almost 
unimaginable mass of water burst through and emptied almost instantaneously into the 
North Atlantic: 

The breakout occurred into the Hudson Bay lowland, lowering lake level by at least 250 metres and resulting in a 
total discharge of between 75,000 and 150,000 cubic kilometres, possibly the single largest flood of the Quaternary 
Period. 101 

This outburst may have single-handedly raised global sea-level by half a metre or so. 
But this is a good place to remind ourselves that the spiralling decay and collapse of the 
Laurentide ice-sheet was not an isolated event but was part of a global pattern and 
feedback system - and that floods of almost equal magnitude poured in tandem off the 
Fennoscandian ice-sheet on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. This is why, at around 
the same time as the collapse of the Laurentide, the north-eastern side of Britain close to 
the Fennoscandian margins also experienced severe flooding. Here there was a very 
rapid rise in sea-level which 

submerged an area in the North Sea the size of modern Britain ... Most of this 100,000 square mile British ‘Atlantis’ 
[not to be confused with Koudriavtsev’s suggested site of Atlantis on the Celtic Shelf] was there in 8000 bc and gone 

by 6500 bc. By then only a 140 mile long, 5000 square mile island, where the Dogger Bank is now, survived. 102 

The separate meltwater floods originating in different ice-caps would, of course, have 
mingled in the world ocean and multiplied their effects by floating and breaking up 
grounded ice on the continental shelves. Stephen Oppenheimer calculates that the ice 
‘flushed out through the Hudson Strait’ from what had once been the centre of the 
Laurentide ice-dome between 8400 and 8000 years ago may have been as much as ‘1.6 

kilometres thick and a third the size of Canada’. 103 

Such statistics beggar the imagination and require common sense to rebel against 
what is still very much the establishment view - namely that the sea-level rises at the 
end of the last Ice Age - though large overall - were too small on a year-by-year basis to 
have caused cataclysmic flooding, and thus to have inspired global flood myths, or to be 
of any relevance at all to traditions of lost civilizations and antediluvian cities. 

Although very few historians are presently taking any interest, the geological and 


oceanographic evidence has begun to turn against this ‘gradualist’ and ‘uniformitarian’ 
view of the meltdown, and there are more and more reasons to suspect that ‘the world 
of men’, as Plato’s Athenian comments in the passage from the Laws quoted at the 
beginning of this chapter, might indeed have often been ‘destroyed by floods ... in such 
a way that only a small portion of the human race survived’. 


Entering the realm of the unknown 

At any of the three nodes of peak flooding around 15,000, 11,000 and 8000 years ago 
the convergence of evidence suggests very fast global sea-level hikes of the order of 5-10 
metres - and sometimes far more - in each case complicated and exacerbated by 
induced ice-sheet break-up and other factors. In particular, as we have seen, experts 
believe that there may have been several temporary rises in sea-level during these 
periods - caused by the sudden floating of vast masses of ice - that far exceeded the 

margins recorded in the oceanographic record. 104 

Moreover, rising sea-levels - bringing floods from sea to land - are only part of the 
story of the end of the last Ice Age. Of at least equal, perhaps greater, importance are 
the terrible walls of water hundreds of metres high that again and again rolled out from 
the monstrous ice-domes - and thence over low-lying land, and from land to sea - when 
ice dams ruptured and glacial lakes spilled, or when pressurized subglacial meltwater 
burst from under the ice-sheet. 

We know that relatively minor sea-level rises could set off major ice-sheet break-ups, 
and it has been suggested by Stephen Oppenheimer that the tremendous earthquakes 
caused by isostatic rebalancing at the end of the Ice Age could have stirred up 
‘mountain-topping superwaves’ in the northern regions of the Atlantic and Pacific 

Oceans. Other than Oppenheimer’s own investigations, however, my impression is 
that while many brilliant individual scientists have studied individual post-glacial 
phenomena in great depth, very little has yet been done to investigate all these 
phenomena together as part of a complex system or to consider the effects on the earth 
and its human population of multiple, interacting cataclysms - floods, lands subsiding 
into the sea, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions - all occurring at the same time. 

We are entering the realm of the unknown here - because science has only recently 
begun to consider the end of the last Ice Age as a cataclysm at all and the evidence is 
still coming in about just how devastating and extensive that cataclysm might have 
been. Nevertheless, some observations that I believe deserve special attention have been 
made by the researcher Paul LaViolette in his 1997 book Earth Under Fire: 

(1) At peak moments of the meltdown any hypothetical civilizations living around the 
edges of partially enclosed seas that served as drainage areas for the great ice-sheets 
could have suffered disproportionately large and rapid changes in sea-level. In a 
sophisticated and original argument, LaViolette draws particular attention to the 
Mediterranean: 


Glacial meltwater [from the nearby European ice-sheets] would have entered the Mediterranean much more rapidly 
than it could escape through the Straits of Gibraltar, and, as a result, the temporary rise in Mediterranean sea-level 
would have been much greater than in the surrounding oceans ... [Such meltwater surges] could have temporarily 
raised the Mediterranean by some 60 meters, flooding all coastal civilizations. 106 

(2) Mega-avalanches of rock and ice must have repeatedly thundered into the world’s 
oceans during the epoch of the meltdown because of the effects of isostacy on 
continental margins and the breakaway collapse of the gigantic ice-sheets. From an 
example in recent history we know how severe avalanche-induced floods can be. In July 
1958 in Alaska’s Lituya Bay ‘ 40 million cubic metres of ice and rock weighing 90 
million tons, avalanched from the glaciated slopes of the Fairweather Range and fell 
900 metres into one of the bay’s inlets.’ The resulting wave roared inland up the bay’s 
steep opposite shore for a distance of more than a kilometre at a speed of 200 
kilometres per hour and ‘destroyed ten square kilometres of forests to a height of 540 

metres’. 107 



Glacier wave sweeps down side of ice-sheet, growing in height as it descends. Based on 
LaViolette (1997). 


What then would have been the effects of the fall into the North Atlantic of a sheet of 
ice a third of the size of Canada? 

(3) The phenomenon of outburst floods from catastrophically released glacial lakes, 
already understood to have had apocalyptic regional-scale effects, may have been far 
more severe that previously thought: 

Ponds and lakes on a glacier’s surface, as well as natural caverns within the glacier, are known to store large 
quantities of glacial meltwater. From time to time the contents of such reservoirs can discharge suddenly to create 
potentially destructive floods called glacier bursts or glacier floods ... 

During periods of intense climatic warning, the Earth’s ice-sheets were melting extremely rapidly, with most of 







the melting taking place on their upper surfaces. Consequently large quantities of meltwater would have collected 
on the ice-sheet surface to form numerous supraglacial lakes perched at elevations of up to 3.5 kilometres. In cases 
where the impounded waters were restrained by ice jams and where mounting pressures caused these jams to give 
way, large floods of glacial meltwater would have poured out over the ice-sheet surface. As one such glacier burst 
swept forward, gradually descending the ice-sheet’s surface, it would have incorporated any ponded meltwater that 
lay in its path, triggering these supraglacial lakes to discharge their contents and add to its size. Through this 
snowballing effect a single initial glacier burst would have progressively grown in size and kinetic energy during the 
course of its downhill journey, eventually becoming of mountainous proportions. This so called continental glacier 
wave would have produced catastrophic floods unlike anything seen on our planet today ... 

Waves of greater height travel faster. Accordingly, as a glacier wave proceeded across an ice-sheet to lower 
altitudes, gaining in height and kinetic energy, it would have accelerated to higher speeds. By the time it had 
journeyed thousands of kilometres to the edge of the ice-sheet, it could have attained heights of 600 metres or more, 
a cross-sectional breadth of as much as 40 kilometres, and a forward speed of several hundred kilometres per hour. 
Such a wave could have extended thousands of kilometres along the ice-sheet ... Glacier waves issuing from the 
surface of ice-sheets in North America, Europe, Siberia and South America would have had sufficient kinetic 
energy to travel thousands of kilometres over land to devastate regions far removed from the ice-sheet’s boundary. 
Upon entering the ocean, the wave would have continued forward as a tsunami to cause considerable damage on the 
shores of distant continents. Because of its immense energy, a glacier-wave tsunami would be far more destructive 
than any tidal wave observed in modern times. 108 


Yesterday ... 

There is much that we do not know about what happened to the earth, and to mankind, 
between 17,000 and 7000 years ago. And though science has made great strides towards 
a fuller understanding of that epoch, there is much that we may never know. Yet it is to 
this precise period of unrecorded prehistoric darkness set amidst epic climatic and 
environmental turmoil that archaeologists trace the origins of civilization: the first 
settlements, the first signs of structured hierarchical communities, the domestication of 
plants, the invention of agriculture, building with bricks and stone, etc. - in other words 
the whole suite of economic and social attributes that set mankind on the road to science 
and reason and the technological achievements of the modern world. 

Proper ‘history’ doesn’t begin until after 5000 years ago when we have written 
records to go on and thus the basis to build up a reasonably accurate picture of past 
events - although even then there are huge gaps. Before 5000 years ago, in the absence 
of written records, all we have to light up our collective yesterdays are the conjectures 
of archaeologists based upon their interpretations of extremely scanty material evidence 
elevated from tiny areas of archaeological sites that become more and more scarce the 
further we go back in time. And almost all of these sites, of course, are on land. Thus far 
the contribution of marine archaeology to the debate has been risible. So this is the 
flimsy, hopelessly incomplete, and wholly inadequate basis on which we rest our 
understanding of the unwritten past and passively accept, as though we are drugged or 
senseless, that there is no mystery in it. 


PART TWO 


India (1) 



4 / Forgotten Cities\, Ancient Texts and an Indian Atlantis 


The lasting gift bequeathed by the Aryans to the conquered peoples was neither material culture nor a superior 
physique, but a more excellent language and the mentality it generated ... At the same time the fact that the first 
Aryans were Nordics was not without importance. The physical qualities of that stock did enable them by bare fact 
of superior strength to conquer even more advanced peoples and so to impose their language on areas from which 
their bodily type was almost completely vanished. This is the truth underlying the panegyrics of the Germanists; 
the Nordics’ superiority in physique fitted them to be the vehicles of a superior language. 

Vere Gordon Childe, Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology, 

University of Edinburgh, 1926 

In the end there is no reason to believe today that there ever was an Aryan race that spoke Indo-European languages 
and was possessed of a coherent or well-defined set of Aryan or Indo-European cultural features. 

Gregory Possehl, Professor of Anthropology, 
University of Pennsylvania, 1999 

The word ‘city’ is etymologically linked to the word ‘civilization’. It is therefore of 
interest that mankind’s first cities have been traced by historians to the following 
regions and dates: (1) Mesopotamia, late fourth and early third millennia bc ; (2) Egypt, 
late fourth and early third millennia bc ; (3) India, late fourth and early third millennia bc ; 
(4) China, mid-second millennium bc ; (5) Central and South America, mid-second 
millennium bc. 

In four of the five regions - Mesopotamia, Egypt, China and the Americas-nothing 
remains of these ancient civilizations except their extraordinary stone monuments 
together with more or less incomplete collections of their inscriptions, legends and 
traditions. These, by good fortune, have come down to us and have proved amenable to 
translation. But the cultures that created the monuments and the scriptures are long 
gone and thus inaccessible to study-except through inference and deduction from the 
material remains they left behind. 

In the fifth region, the Indian subcontinent, matters are very different. Here the oldest 
cities are ascribed to the ‘Indus Valley civilization’. It was forgotten by history and 
unknown to archaeologists until the 1920s, when the first two sites to be discovered - 
Harappa and Mohenjodaro on the Indus river in what is now Pakistan - were excavated 
and found to be about 5000 years old. It is because of the location of these two ‘type 
sites’ that the name ‘Indus Valley civilization’ was coined - while at the same time the 
characteristic ‘Bronze Age’ archaeological assemblage of this civilization was referred to 
as ‘Harappan’ - since Harappa was the first site to be explored. Subsequent excavations, 
continuing today, have led to the realization that the majority of the approximately 
2600 ‘Harappan’ sites so far discovered in fact lie outside the Indus valley, particularly 
to the east along the course of the ancient Sarasvati, a river that has been dry for almost 
4000 years. This wide distribution of sites has been recognized by scholars, many of 
whom now prefer to speak of the ‘Indus-Sarasvati civilization’ - the term that I shall 



generally use here, since it more accurately describes the very large geographical 
catchment area in which this mysterious culture flourished. 


AFGHAN ISTAI 


CHINA 


TIBET 


Delhi 


-V/. 


V' tr / 

YBHVrANj / 


I N D 


..i v\ r 


uy l 


SRI LANKA 


It was an architectural culture, carrying out prodigious feats of civil engineering and 
building its gigantic cities out of bricks so strong, so uniform and so well made that even 
after thousands of years they could safely be reused on modern construction projects 
(something that happened frequently in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries 
before Harappa and Mohenjodaro were recognized as archaeological sites). The Indus- 
Sarasvati civilization was also the first in the world to experiment with ‘New Towns’ - 
towns literally planned and built from scratch, according to a blueprint - the first to 
institute scientifically designed urban sanitation systems and the first to build an 
efficient tidal dock. 

It was a literate culture. Altogether, some 4200 objects - mainly pottery and seals 
made from steatite and terracotta - have been found bearing the Indus-Sarasvati script. 
Many of the seals are inscribed in ‘mirror image’ (so as to produce a positive impression 
when stamped, for example, into damp clay) and are thought to have been used by 
merchants to brand-mark their goods. The earliest inscribed seal (excavated in Harappa) 
dates to 2600 bc while the pottery is a little older. The average inscription contains five 
signs, the longest twenty-six, and there are many with just one sign. Despite the best 




efforts of the world’s leading linguists, it has not proved possible to translate any of 
inscriptions (although quite a number of translations have been attempted and then 
rejected by the academic community). There is, however, a general consensus that the 
script, as presently known ‘emerged as a fully-formed system of abstract signs called 
graphemes ... After careful comparison of all the signs, most scholars agree that there 

are between 400 and 450 different signs or graphemes.’ 1 The mature form of the script, 
in other words, appears suddenly in the archaeological record some time before 2600 bc. 
There are no indications of evolution or development. One day it wasn’t there, next day 
it was. 

How is this to be explained? 


A missing literature 

It could simply be because the traces of the script’s evolution exist but have not yet been 
found by archaeologists, or that such traces once existed but have now all been 
destroyed. It could be that the script did not ‘evolve’. Perhaps it was invented and 
introduced all at once, a bit like the script for the previously unwritten Somali language 

that was invented in the 1960s and introduced in the Horn of Africa in 1972. 2 Or it 
could be that the Indus-Sarasvati civilization did not regard written documents as a 
suitable medium in which to preserve its great literary and religious compositions. What 
I mean to suggest by this is the possibility that the Indus-Sarasvati script might have 
been devised to serve strictly limited commercial and bureaucratic functions such as 
labelling merchandise, naming the owners of goods, naming the contents of pots, etc. It 
could be that the nature of the society was such that it would have been regarded as a 
desecration to use the script to write down anything that was revered or sacred like a 
wonderful story from antiquity or the prayers, hymns and recitations used in religious 
services. 

To live in the twenty-first century is to live in a world in which it is increasingly 
difficult to imagine how any kind of civilization could exist without large-scale written 
communications. We regard writing as an essential intellectual skill, as well as the only 
way to preserve proper long-term records. In our society to call someone ‘illiterate’ is 
therefore an insult; people who do not read and write fluently often have feelings of 
inadequacy; and there is widespread unstated agreement that the written word is in 
itself a virtue, that’s its absence is a curse, and that no high civilization could possibly 
develop without it. This great, universally accepted ‘given’, as unimpeachable as 
motherhood, is one of the reasons why historians and archaeologists regard evidence of 
the introduction and extensive use of writing as amongst the defining characteristics of 
a ‘civilization’ - to such an extent that ‘preliterate’ cultures are automatically regarded 
as much less civilized than literate ones. 

But isn’t this exactly the perspective that one would expect of a highly literate 
technical society looking at the past? Wouldn’t it tend to seek out its own image there, 


in however early a form, and define that as ‘civilization’? 

I believe that this may be what has happened with the vexed issue of the 
indecipherable Indus-Sarasvati script. The very brevity of the inscriptions (which is part 
of what makes them so difficult to decipher) means that they cannot have been used to 
tell complex stories containing numerous details and large quantities of information - 

and I do not think any scholar would disagree with me on that point. 3 Yet, to my mind, 
it is inconceivable that a society so large, so complex, so well ordered and so 
intelligently run as the Indus-Sarasvati civilization did not possess a literature, did not 
possess religious and spiritual compositions, did not have vital sacred records that it 
wanted to preserve. I am certain that it had all these things, and since I know that this 
society understood the principle of writing, and indeed had developed a writing system 
with more than 400 different signs, I am not at all inclined to conclude that it did not 
possess any information of great cultural importance but rather that it must have made 
a deliberate choice not to use its script to convey such information. 


A potion for remembering ... 

A clue as to why a civilization might not regard writing as an automatic virtue, and why 
its leaders might even take an ethical decision to restrict the use of writing, has been 
passed down to us by Plato. In Phaedrus he has Socrates pose a rhetorical question: 
‘What feature makes writing good, and what inept?’ He then declines to give an 
immediate answer to this question but instead continues: 

I can tell you what I’ve heard the ancients said ... Among the ancient gods ... in Egypt there was one to whom the 
bird called the ibis is sacred. The name of that divinity was Theuth [Thoth, the ancient Egyptian god of wisdom], 
and it was he who first discovered number and calculation, geometry and astronomy, as well as the games of 
checkers and dice, and, above all else, writing. 4 

What the ancients said about Thoth, Socrates reports, was that having invented 
writing he had gone to the god Amon, ‘the King of all Egypt at that time’, and urged him 
to introduce it amongst the populace, with these words: ‘O King, here is something that, 
once learned, will make the Egyptians wiser and will improve their memory; I have 
discovered a potion for memory or wisdom.’ But Amon replied: 

O most expert Theuth, one man can give birth to the elements of an art, but only another can judge how they can 
benefit or harm those who use them. And now, since you are the father of writing, your affection for it has made 
you describe its effects as the opposite of what they really are. In fact it will introduce forgetfulness into the soul of 
those who learn it: they will not practise using their memory because they will put their trust in writing, which is 
external and depends on signs that belong to others, instead of trying to remember from the inside, completely on 
their own. You have not discovered a potion for remembering but for reminding; you provide your students with 
the appearance of wisdom, not its reality. Your invention will enable them to hear many things without being 
properly taught, and they will imagine that they have come to know much while for the most part they will know 
nothing. 


Later in the discussion Socrates makes it clear that he feels there are certain matters and 
certain kinds of information that should not be available to all but should be limited to 
‘those with understanding’: 

Once it has been written down, every discourse roams about everywhere, reaching indiscriminately those with 
understanding no less than those who have no business with it, and it doesn’t know to whom it should speak and to 
whom it should not ... 5 

These passages in the Phaedrus may be interpreted in many different ways, but one of 
the things they definitely are is a sturdy defence of the oral tradition and a clear 
statement that scripts may not, ultimately, be the best way to preserve precious cultural 
documents. Because a script depends on signs there is always the possibility that a time 
will come when those signs will no longer be understood (as has indeed happened with 
the Indus-Sarasvati script today). In such a case any knowledge consigned to the future 
exclusively in the ‘ark’ of that script will have been utterly and irredeemably lost. 
Because a script is accessible to anybody who reads it means there is no guarantee that 
compositions expressed in it will be delivered only to those whom they are intended for. 
If the compositions contain sacred material that is aimed exclusively at initiates within a 
cult, for example, and cannot be properly understood without specific information 
possessed by those initiates, then it is probable that such compositions - even if they can 
be ‘translated’ in a literal sense - will appear meaningless, nonsensical or absurd to 
outsiders. Last but not least, because a script eliminates much of the need for memory its 
introduction in any society will inevitably lead to a reduction in the value of the science 
of memory and in due course that science will be forgotten. Memorization is not a 
highly regarded skill in our society today (and increasingly less so as the years go by), 
yet it is possible that a powerful memory, developed through discipline and training, 
could operate as a catalyst to other intellectual and perhaps even spiritual skills which 
would otherwise lie dormant. 

By keeping communications within a strictly oral tradition all of these problems can 
be avoided. From generation to generation, from initiate to initiate directly, the sacred 
archives (or hymns, or utterances) can be passed down and their obscurities explained 
where necessary, no doubt evolving to some extent as the language in which they are 
carried evolves, perhaps even being translated into other languages - but always strictly 
through the medium of the spoken and memorized word, with suitable interpretation 
and explanation by a wise practitioner at hand, never, never, never through the 
medium of the written word. 

Consider sacred texts that are valuable to ‘advanced’ technological societies such as 
Japan and the United States. In Japan the Nihongi and the Kojiki are revered for the 
antiquity and wisdom of the traditions they contain. In the United States the Old 
Testament and the New Testament of the Bible are equally revered amongst Christians. 
But in neither country does more than a tiny handful of people (if indeed any at all) 
have these enormous and complicated texts off by heart. In consequence, although they 
may be found in many household libraries, they are not often discussed or consulted by 


the majority of Japanese or Americans today. 

Now, by contrast, consider the case of India with its population of one billion. 


Almost supernatural feats of memory 

Unlike in other big modern industrial nations that have long ago lost all sense of the 
sacred and all respect for ‘what the ancients said’, the sacred life still permeates India 
through and through to such an extent that an appeal to the authority of scripture can 
still settle all disputes. And unlike the cultures of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, China 
and the Americas, where only spectacular fossils of architecture and language remain, 
the culture of ancient India is still vibrantly alive today in the subcontinent and offers as 
its gift to the present a vast library of archaic rituals, dances, games, ceremonies, 
festivals and customs as well as an immense oral literature that has not only been 
preserved and continuously passed on in the memory of sadhus and rishis (sages, wise 
men) for thousands of years but that is also celebrated, rehearsed, admired and relished 
in hundreds of thousands of Hindu villages from the Himalayas to the sea. 

The oldest elements of India’s oral tradition are the Vedas (the word veda means 
‘knowledge’), consisting of four major samhitas (compilations of hymns): the Rig Veda 
(the most ancient and the most revered), the Sama Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Atharva 
Veda. The language used is a very archaic form of Sanskrit, and there is a great deal of 
it! The Rig alone has an extent of around 450,000 words (about twice as long as this 

book) expressed in 1028 hymns made up of 10,589 verses. 6 The total compendium of the 
four samhitas probably runs to almost double that. But what is most amazing about these 
hymnodies is not so much their overall length, which is awesome, but that for most of 
their history it is probable that no written versions of them ever existed - and not 
because they could not be written down but because the priests of the Vedic religion that 
evolved into Hinduism believed that they should not be written down but should be kept 

alive instead in human memory. 7 

The Vedic texts were originally part of an oral literature. They are sruti, or ‘Heard’, and Brahmins [the priestly caste 
in Hinduism] were expected to memorize all four books, some parts of which were clearly composed and arranged 
to assist in this learning process. It can be surmised then that there was a period of composition, when new material 
was added and older verses were edited and changed. But at some point this flexibility in composition stopped and 
the priests defined their text as immutable, not to be changed by one word or even one syllable, and the slightest 
mispronunciation or deviation from the canon was believed to be a sacrilege. 8 

Significantly there is no mention of writing in the Rig Veda. Moreover, even when 
writing had become widespread in ancient Indian society for other purposes, strict 
proscriptions continued to be enforced against writing the Vedas down. This ban was 
respected until about 1000 years ago, from which period the earliest surviving written 

versions have reached us. 9 


Gregory Possehl, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania, and 
one of the world’s leading experts on ancient India and the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, 
comments: 

The Indian Brahmins took the memorization of the Vedas very seriously, and developed means to ensure accuracy 
and the careful reproduction of the same words and sounds from generation to generation. Careful, even exact oral 
replication of the Vedas was part of the Hindu faith, institutionalized during the learning process and maintained 
through peer observation and pressure through the life of a Brahmin. This community of faithful Brahmins was 
large and they all went through the same learning process, which was standardized to some degree. Deviation from 
the ... path of exact replication would have brought powerful forces of censure to bear on the offender ... 

There is also good agreement between the written Vedas that exist from Medieval times on, and the oral versions. 

It is thought that the oral tradition may not have been contaminated by the literate, but we cannot really know for 
sure. Still, the writing down of the Vedas was not favoured, nor widespread ... 

The noted Sanskritist J. A. B van Buitenen told me that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the Europeans 
who were learning Sanskrit were impressed by the fact that no matter where they went in the subcontinent, when 
they heard Brahmins recite the Vedas they heard the exact same thing. From Peshawar to Pondicherry, or Calcutta 
to Cape Comorin, hundreds of thousands, even millions, of Brahmins who had no direct contact knew these texts in 
precisely the same way ... 

[There are therefore] some reasons to believe that this oral tradition is different from most, and that what we 
have today as texts may be remarkably close to those of deep antiquity. 10 


The problem of the Aryas 

How deep? How ancient is the content of the Vedas really? And from what wellspring of 
philosophy, insight and religious speculation do they flow? 

Scholars like Gregory Possehl, with the (almost) unanimous backing of non-Indian 
Indologists and Sanskritists, believe that the Vedic hymns were ‘codified’ at around 1200 
bc. They admit that the actual compositions must be older than that but it is clear that 
they would be unlikely to accept a date - even for composition - that is earlier than 
about 1500 bc, perhaps begrudgingly 1800 bc in some rare cases. 11 Why should this be so 
when the archaeological record makes it is clear that the second millennium bc in India, 
if not a time of total decay and collapse as it has sometimes been painted, was certainly 
not a time that was magnificently fruitful intellectually and does not look like the sort 
of epoch that would have produced a sublime intellectual creation like the Rig Veda? On 
commonsense grounds alone, isn’t this enigmatic text, which we will explore in chapter 
6, at least as likely to have been the work of the equally enigmatic Indus-Sarasvati 
civilization? And why is it only now that such a possibility is beginning to be tentatively 
explored by some scholars while the majority still won’t even consider it? 

The answer is that the Vedic peoples are referred to repeatedly in the Rig as the 
‘Aryas’ and that from this a great and sustained error of orthodox historical scholarship 
was spawned. Even though the adjective ‘Aryan’ in ancient Sanskrit actually means 


‘noble’ or ‘cultured’ - and therefore the Aryas are essentially ‘the “noble” or “cultured” 
folk’, and thus as easily a religious cult as an ethnic group - it was assumed by 
historians and archaeologists that they were a race and that they had invaded India 
around 1500 bc. Known as the ‘Aryan invasion theory’, this error was only brought to 
light and dropped from official curricula during the last quarter of the twentieth 
century. Because it has far-reaching implications, and requires the wholesale rewriting 
of canonical academic texts and standard works of reference, it is the kind of error that 
historians are not normally eager to admit. Yet in this case, to their credit, it is the 
orthodox scholars themselves who have exposed it. 

It is not an error that has ever made the headlines. But since the early 1990s it has 
been increasingly widely discussed in academic journals and books and taken into 
account, more or less completely, in all new thinking and teaching on the subject. So 
there is no question at all of a cover-up or even of significant denial by those whose 
specialisms have been most directly affected or whose publications in scientific journals 
are now out of date. 


The Aryan invasion of India 

The attribution of the Vedas to ‘Aryan invaders’, the date of 1200 bc for the codification 
of the Vedas, and the Aryan invasion theory itself can all be traced back to an idea that 
had already planted roots by the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was then that a 
number of Western scholars began to notice that Sanskrit, the classical language in 
which the Vedas are written, and its modern relatives in north India such as Hindi, 
Bengali, Punjabi, Gujerati and Sindhi, have extremely close affinities with modern and 
ancient European languages such as Latin, Greek, English, Norwegian and German. 
How, the scholars asked themselves, had this amazingly widespread distribution of what 
are now known as the ‘Indo-European’ family of languages come about? 

Fairly soon a predictable doctrine began to take form. ‘This’, explains Gregory 
Possehl, 

had to do with the Aryan race, proposed to be the people who spoke the languages of the Indo-European family. 
European intellectual and moral superiority was a foregone conclusion to most savants of the nineteenth and early 
twentieth century. The success of European colonialism, Christianity and the Industrial Revolution proved that. 
This condition of innate superiority was seen in the Classical Greeks and to have been carried forward by Rome. 
With the discovery of the Indo-European family of languages there was evidence for an even earlier history, one set 
within a prehistoric past that only archaeology could uncover. The Aryans, or Indo-Europeans, must have been 
blessed with this ‘superiority’ since they too were successful conquerors of vast lands, from the Bay of Bengal to the 
outer islands of Scandinavia and the United Kingdom. 

It was against this ideological background of inevitable European superiority, combined 
with misunderstood references to the Aryas in the Rig, that the doctrine of the ‘the Aryan 
invasion of India’ arose and gained universal acceptance amongst scientists as an event 


that had taken place at a specific moment in history and that had involved a mass 
movement of peoples from a European ‘homeland’ into India. 

Indeed, the earliest version of this scenario remained widely accepted until the 
twentieth century was quite far advanced. It held that India - which before had been 
inhabited exclusively by dark-skinned aboriginal and Dravidian tribes - was invaded 
from the north-west through the passes of Afghanistan by a light-skinned and perhaps 
even blue-eyed European race at some time during the second millennium bc. The pale 
nomadic invaders, mounted on horses, armed with iron weapons and driving fast war 
chariots, called themselves the ‘Aryas’. They rapidly overwhelmed and subjugated the 
indigenous inhabitants, whose civilization was at a lower level than their own. At the 
same time they imported their own naturalistic religion - expressed in the Rig Veda - 
which they imposed on the ‘inferior’ conquered races of India. 

The second scenario began to take shape after the discovery and excavation of the 
Indus valley sites of Harappa and Mohenjodaro during the 1920s and 1930s. It rapidly 
became clear that these sophisticated, centrally planned cities were much older than the 
supposed 1500 bc date for the Aryan invasion of India and that they belonged to a 
previously unidentified high civilization of remote antiquity, perhaps almost as old, it 
was speculated, as Sumer or Egypt - in other words, dating back to 3000 bc or earlier. 

Like other resilient bad ideas, the Aryan invasion theory survived what should have 
been critical evidence against it by adapting. Although the chronology had to be 
increasingly stretched to fit in with the new archaeological discoveries, historians were 
for a long while able to cling on to the notion of an invasion by ‘Aryan’ hordes in the 
second millennium bc. 

What changed was the background. Previously, the pale Aryas had overrun primitive 
tribes of dark-skinned hunter-gatherers. Now it had to be admitted that they had overrun 
a sophisticated urban civilization that had flourished in India for at least a thousand 
years before their arrival and that had been far ahead of them in culture but no match 
for their superior military prowess and technology. Previously the Aryas had been the 
bringers of civilization to a benighted and barbaric India; now they were the destroyers 
of a far older civilization than their own - a literate civilization, moreover, and one that 
had clearly been prosperous for a very long time. 

It was generally agreed that this earlier race of city dwellers had been Dravidians - an 
ethno-linguistic group, principally represented by Tamil-speakers, that is now almost 
entirely confined to southern India. With no more evidence than the authoritative (and 
in this case incorrect) opinion of the revered British archaeologist Sir Mortimer Wheeler 
concerning a few dozen skeletons thought to display wound marks that had been found 
at Mohenjodaro, scholars adopted the theory that the invading Aryas had ‘massacred’ 
the Dravidian inhabitants of the Indus-Sarasvati cities, forcibly taken over their lands 
and driven the survivors towards the south. 

Although the massacre theory was later discredited (the skeletons came from different 



epochs, showed no signs of fatal wounds, and were not the result of any one event), 13 
the idea of a violent invasion of India by a non-Indian people calling themselves the 
Aryas survived in at least some enclaves of mainstream scholarship into the early 1990s 
- when even its most ardent supporters began to distance themselves from it. By 1999 
the standard texts on the subject had caught up and Gregory Possehl was able to write 
the definitive obituary of the Aryan invasion hypothesis in his massive tome Indus Age: 

In the end there is no reason to believe today that there ever was an Aryan race that spoke Indo-European languages 
and was possessed of a coherent or well-defined set of Aryan or Indo-European cultural features. 14 


1500 bc or 15,000 bc? 

So it is not controversial to state that the top scholars in this field now accept, 
absolutely, that there was no Aryan race and no Aryan invasion. Strangely, however, 
very few of them seem to have noticed that these conclusions must have implications for 
the history that we ascribe to the Vedas - hitherto assumed to have been composed by 
the Aryan invaders, and codified by them into the form that is with us now, during the 
first few centuries after their arrival in India around 1500 bc. 

It turns out that this assumption, which in all logic cannot stand now that the core 
idea of an Aryan invasion has been abandoned, is one of the pillars of the orthodox 
chronology of the Vedas. This dates the codification of the four principal books - the Rig 
Veda, the Atharva Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Sama Veda - to between 1200 and 800 bc 
(with the three centuries between 1500 bc and 1200 bc allocated to the actual 
composition of the hymns). 

The second pillar has to do with metals and the supposed date of the ‘Iron Age’ in 
India. The Rig Veda, which is thought to be the oldest Vedic text, uses a general term, 
ayas, for metal. By the time of the codification of the slightly later Atharva Veda, 
however, a new term has been introduced: krsna ayas, meaning ‘black metal’. Scholars 
have taken this to be a reference to iron, and have drawn very large chronological 
conclusions from it. Gregory Possehl: 

There is some content of the Rig Veda that hints at its age. There are references made to metals ... but not iron. 
However, by the time of the Atharva Veda iron is known. This can be used to suggest that the Rig Veda was codified 
prior to the widespread use of iron in northern India and Pakistan and that the Atharva Veda is on the other side of 
this timeline; nominally 1000 bc or slightly earlier. 5 

Possehl describes this as nothing more than a ‘reasonable or interesting observation, not 

a hard and fast historical point’. 16 This is certainly a wise caution. For example, the 
metal krsna ayas might have been known in Rig Vedic times but simply not mentioned in 
the Rig itself. Or, as a number of authorities have argued, it may be that krsna ayas has 
been mistranslated as iron and that some other dark-coloured metal was intended. Or 
again, with no indication given in the texts as to how the krsna ayas was acquired or 


manufactured, it is also possible - even if ‘iron’ was intended - that the references are to 
meteoritic iron (as opposed to man-made smelted or forged iron). This is widely 
understood to be the case, for example, with the many references to ‘iron’ - bja - in the 
ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (c.2300 bc, long before the Egyptian ‘Iron Age’) and 
there is no reason from the context why it should not also be so in the Atharva Veda. 

The third pillar supporting the orthodox chronology of the Vedas, and the one most 
relied upon for dating the Vedas today, is a linguistic argument extrapolated from a 
‘feeling’ certain specialized scholars have about the pace at which Sanskrit might have 
evolved. Gregory Possehl again, setting out the orthodox view as it stood in 1999: 

Based on the language of the Rig Veda, its vocabulary and grammar, Vedic Sanskrit can be thought of as the archaic 
form of this language. The Sanskritists on whose judgement I rely, feel that the date for the codification of the Rig 
Veda is not likely to be earlier than 1200 bc nor later than 800 bc. There is some bias toward the later date. These 
dates are not based on a process of reasoning rich in data and cross-checks. They emerge instead from a sense of how 
rapidly Sanskrit might have changed, using the grammar of Panini (c.5th century bc) as a baseline and working 
backward from this point. There are few chronological checkpoints in this process and the period between 1200 bc 
and 800 bc emerges as a scholarly judgement; a kind of ballpark guess ... 17 

Possehl then goes on to warn that since ‘this date for the Rig Veda is based primarily on 
language’, it gives at best ‘the approximate date for the codification of the text, but not 
for the history that may be represented there, which is certainly earlier; how much 

earlier is simply not known’. 18 

Likewise, it is surely significant that Max Muller, perhaps the most eminent Indologist 
of all, and in fact the first Sanskritist to propose a codification date of 1200 bc for the Rig 
Veda, was himself much more hesitant than the generations of scholars following 
uncritically after him, who have allowed the date of 1200 bc to crystallize into received 
wisdom. It is clear that Muller became aware during his own lifetime that such a 
‘crystallization’ process was underway - and that he resisted it. ‘I have repeatedly dwelt 
on the entirely hypothetical nature of the dates which I ventured to assign to the first 

three periods of Vedic literature,’ he protested at one point. 19 Again, in his Gifford 
Lectures in 1890, Muller warned his students that 1200 bc was a purely arbitrary date 
based on unproven assumptions about the rate of evolution of Sanskrit: ‘Whether the 
Vedic hymns were composed in 1000 or 1500 or 2000 or 3000 bc no power on earth 

could ever fix.’ 20 And in his book The Six Systems of Indian Philosophy, which describes the 
Vedas as ‘tombs of thought richer in relics than the royal tombs of Egypt’, Muller 
cautions: 

If we grant that they belonged to the second millennium before our era, we are probably on safe ground, though we 
should not forget that this is a constructive date only, and that such a date does not become positive by mere 
repetition ... Whatever may be the date of the Vedic hymns, whether 1500 or 15,000 bc, they have their own 

unique place and stand by themselves in the literature of the world ... 21 


Alchemy 


Despite Muller’s insistent and repeated caveats, the date of around 1200 bc that he had 
once ‘Ventured to assign’ to the codification of the Rig Veda was the date that stuck. The 
master himself never saw it as anything more than a hypothesis, but the alchemy of his 
own prestige and authority transformed it after his death into a ‘fact’. 

Such cults of the personalities of great men have converted opinions into facts before 
- usually only for short periods of time until common sense reasserts itself. But Muller’s 
nineteenth-century hypothesis about Vedic chronology is still treated as a fact virtually 
universally in the twenty-first century even, as we have seen, amongst such wise and 
insightful scholars as Gregory Possehl. To give just one further example out of many that 
are available to make the point, Professor Jonathan Mark Kennoyer of the University of 
Wisconsin, another leading authority on the Indus age, states as fact in his 1998 book 
Ancient Cities of the Indus Valley Civilization that: 

The Rig Veda is a compilation of sacred hymns that was codified in its present form during the mid-second to first 

millennium bc at around the same time as the Indus cities were declining ... 22 

As anyone who knows their work can attest, Kennoyer and Possehl are far from being 
dogmatic about the interpretation of the past. On the contrary, they are amongst a 
number of really fine thinkers and brilliant field-researchers in universities all around 
the world - not least in India itself and in Pakistan - who are today confronting the 
enduring riddle of Indian antiquity with a formidable combination of open minds and 
scientific method. It is important also to remind ourselves that they are only proposing 
codification dates for the Rig Veda and fully endorse Muller’s earlier recognition that 
many of the compositions within the standardized collections may have had an 
extremely long prior existence in India’s ancient and fantastically elaborate oral 
tradition. So while their approach does recognize a date of approximately 1200 bc for 
codification, Possehl, Kennoyer and others are advocates of much earlier dates of 
composition. Kennoyer in particular seems willing to explore the possibility of 

continuity between Indus-Sarasvati motifs and the Rig Vedic hymns 23 - when not so 
long ago such a line of thought would have been inconceivable for mainstream scholars. 

Yet so far neither Possehl nor Kennoyer, nor any other Western Indologist of whom I 
am aware, nor any Western historian, archaeologist, linguist or any other academic 
from any other discipline working in a university outside India itself, has ever seriously 
considered the possibility that the Indus Valley civilization, hitherto believed ‘mute’ 
because its script cannot be deciphered, could in reality have been speaking to us all 
along through the medium of Vedic Sanskrit. 

Having taken two big steps towards such a conclusion - dumping the Aryan invasion 
theory, and accepting that the Vedas are likely to be significantly older than their date 
of codification - it is, I think, rather strange that scholars outside India have not yet 
been prepared to take the third obvious step, which would involve giving proper 


consideration to the possibility that the true parent of these orphaned scriptures could 
be the Indus-Sarasvati civilization itself rather than the evaporated ‘Aryan invaders’ of 
the second millennium bc. 

Could it be that the reason for this reluctance is the same as the reason that the Aryan 
invasion theory was allowed to flourish during the colonial era in the first place? 


How to have your Aryan invasion and not admit it 

There can be little serious doubt that the evolution and lengthy survival of the Aryan 
invasion theory was underpinned by an ingrained conviction on the part of European 
scholars that the presence in India of a ‘superior’ language such as Sanskrit that was 
related to European languages must imply a movement of that language from Europe to 
India in remote prehistory rather than from India to Europe. 

Vere Gordon Childe, Professor of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of 
Edinburgh and later Director of the Institute of Archaeology, University of London, was 
one of the most influential exponents of this gross scholarly racism. In 1926, while 
Harappa and Mohenjodaro were actually under excavation, Childe eulogized the ‘gift’ 
that he believed had been given to India by brawny ‘Nordic’ Aryans: 

The lasting gift bequeathed by the Aryans to the conquered peoples was neither material culture nor a superior 
physique, but a more excellent language and the mentality it generated ... At the same time the fact that the first 
Aryans were Nordics was not without importance. The physical qualities of that stock did enable them by bare fact 
of superior strength to conquer even more advanced peoples and so to impose their language on areas from which 
their bodily type was almost completely vanished. This is the truth underlying the panegyrics of the Germanists; 
the Nordics’ superiority in physique fitted them to be the vehicles of a superior language. 4 

Such ideas, endorsed and propagated by the leading archaeologists and ethnologists of 
the time, played a crucial role in the growth of the Nazi cult of ‘Aryan’ racial superiority 
during the 1930s and 1940s and led, ultimately, to the abomination of the Holocaust. 
One would expect, therefore, that archaeologists of today would take an entirely 
different line. This is what Colin Renfrew, Professor of Archaeology at Cambridge 
University, has to say on the subject: 

As far as I can see there is nothing in the Rig Veda which demonstrates that the Vedic-speaking population were 
intrusive [to India]; this comes rather from a historical assumption about the ‘coming’ of the Indo-Europeans ... 25 

Renfrew blames Vere Gordon Childe’s contemporary Sir Mortimer Wheeler for the 
widespread diffusion and rapid uptake of the ‘invasion’ idea, which 

is rooted entirely in assumptions ... When Wheeler speaks of ‘the Aryan invasion of the Land of the Seven Rivers in 
the Punjab’, he has no warranty at all, so far as I can see. If one checks the dozen references in the Rig Veda to the 
Seven Rivers, there is nothing in any of them that to me implies invasion: the Land of the Seven Rivers is the land 
of the Rig Veda, the scene of the action. Nothing implies that the Aryas were strangers there. 26 


Finally Renfrew makes the significant observation that despite Wheeler’s attempt to 
hold the Aryas responsible for massacres they never committed in the Indus-Sarasvati 
cities, and to blame them for those cities’ collapse in the second millennium bc : 

It is difficult to see what is particularly non-Aryan about the Indus Valley civilization, which on this hypothesis 
would be speaking the Indo-European ancestor of Vedic Sanskrit." 

But ultimately Renfrew too turns out to be proposing an Aryan invasion of India - 
only in a freshly scrubbed, politically correct incarnation. Renfrew’s scenario enables 
him to keep a non-Indian origin for Sanskrit while abandoning the now untenable 
theory of an invasion in the second millennium bc. His argument, in the simplest terms, 
is that the ‘invasion’ was actually a peaceful agricultural ‘migration’ or ‘dispersal’ and 
that it took place much earlier than the second millennium bc - indeed he prefers a date 

at the beginning of the Neolithic perhaps as much as 9000 years ago. In his important 
study Archaeology and Language he makes the case that Anatolia (in modern Turkey, 
occupying the peninsula between the Black Sea, the Mediterranean and the Aegean) 
was 

a key area where an early form of the Indo-European language was spoken before 6500 bc. From there the 
distribution of the language and its successors into Europe was associated with the spread of farming ... The zone of 
early farmers speaking Proto-Indo-European extended east to northern Iran and even to Turkmenia at the outset. 
The spread of Indo-European speech to the south, to the Iranian plateau and to north India and Pakistan, can then 
be seen as part of an analogous dispersal, related to demographic changes associated with the adoption of farming." 

After their forefathers had arrived in India, Renfrew’s hypothesis has it that the 
descendants of the original Neolithic migrants remained there and developed their 
society and religious ideas in situ for thousands of years. In his view they continued to 
speak an evolving form of the language brought with them from Anatolia that was to 
become Sanskrit - in which the Vedas would ultimately be composed. And although he 
has not explored the implications further, he clearly has no objection in principle to the 
idea that it was also they who founded the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. 


Two sides of the same coin 

Outside the cosy Pall Mall club of Western scholarship, Indian academics have been 
forthright in contemplating direct links between the Indus-Sarasvati civilization and the 
Vedic texts. Like Renfrew, Dr S. R. Rao, famous as the founder of marine archaeology in 
India, believes that the language of the Indus-Sarasvati cities was an early form of Vedic 
Sanskrit - and has even gone so far as to propose a full interpretation on this basis of 

all known examples of the Indus-Sarasvati script. 30 A number of other leading scholars, 
such as Dr R. S. Bisht, Director of the Archaeological Survey of India, and S. P. Gupta, 
Professor of the History of Art in the National Museum Institute, New Delhi, also have 
similar ideas. 


Bisht, for example, has argued that the hierarchical layout of Harappan towns was 
organized according to the Rig Vedic trimeshthin system which advocates three distinct 
sectors of settlement: Parama-Veshthina (Upper Township), Madhyama-Veshthina 
(Middle Township) and (Avama-Veshthina) (Lower Township). He also points out that 
the Harappan city of Dholavira in Gujerat, which dates back to the third millennium bc, 
measured 771 metres from east to west at its maximum extent and 616.8 metres from 
north to south, the ratio being 5:4. The Citadel, or Upper Township, measured 114 
metres from east to west while from north to south it measured 92.5 metres, the ratio 
being again 5:4. Bisht does not think it is a coincidence that the same ratio is 
specifically mentioned in ancient texts setting out the proper construction of Vedic fire- 

altars. 31 

S. P. Gupta likewise points out that all the key characteristics ascribed to Rig Vedic 
religion and culture are already found in the mysterious ancient cities along the Indus 
and Sarasvati rivers. First and foremost amongst these characteristics are the cities 
themselves - since, contrary to the old view that the Vedas portray only a pastoral or 
nomadic lifestyle, all scholars now acknowledge that cities are frequently mentioned in 
the Rig and other Vedic texts as the homes of Aryans. Additional archetypally ‘Vedic’ 
characteristics that have been confirmed by excavation of the Indus-Sarasvati sites 
include the presence of cattle and of the domesticated horse, the use of fire-altars, and 
evidence of widespread international trade and deep-sea navigation. Gupta concludes: 

Once it becomes reasonably clear that the Vedas do contain enough material which shows that the authors of the 
hymns were fully aware of the cities, city life, longdistance overseas and overland trade, etc., which characterized 
the Indus-Sarasvati urban gamut of cultural elements, it becomes easier for us to appreciate the theory that the 
Indus-Sarasvati and Vedic civilizations may have been just two complementary elements of one and the same 
civilization. 

Unlike Renfrew and other Western experts, however, the Indian scholars are not 
inclined to support any kind of European or central Asian origin for Vedic civilization. 
Instead, with good reason, they prefer to see it as a wholly indigenous development of 
their subcontinent - Indian through and through like the Indus-Sarasvati cities. 

In this way they have begun the long-overdue process of bringing together one of the 
greatest and most profound spiritual literatures of antiquity with what is arguably the 
greatest and most remarkable urban civilization of antiquity. As well as resolving the 
paradox of a sophisticated urban culture with a script but no literature, and of a 
sophisticated literature with no urban culture evident behind it, this process has the 
potential to link the Vedas to known history and prehistory and to definite 
archaeological remains rather than to vapid speculations about an ‘Aryan invasion’. 

Perhaps we are coming to a time when ancient India will speak for herself again after 
millennia of silence ... 


My Indian childhood 


On a bright morning in July 1954, when I was three years and eleven months old, I got 
off a ship in the port of Bombay with my mother and father. We then made an immense 
journey across India by rail that I remember very little of (although I remember the ship 
very well), and eventually arrived in Vellore in the state of Tamil Nadu in the far south. 
There my father took up the post of general surgeon at the Christian Medical College 
Hospital. 

We lived in a flat on the campus of the CMC with other doctors’ families and medical 
staff. We had a verandah to the rear of the flat that overlooked some distant palm trees 
at the edge of a field. During the monsoon season, if I plugged the drains of the 
verandah, it would fill up with rainwater like a swimming pool. The view of the palm 
trees bent double in the big winds of the monsoon used to make my heart race and my 
chest feel tight and I still remember it now as though it were yesterday. 

Our flat was on the first floor. There was a dust-patch below in which I once found a 
lizard’s soft-shelled eggs. There was a lily-pond with enormous frogs. And there were 
trees to climb, including one with a tree-house. 

I remember often being in Vellore, 5 kilometres away from the campus. Sometimes I 
would be at the CMC Hospital following my dad around. Or I would be at the Tamil 
school I attended at around the age of six where a fellow pupil once stabbed me in the 
left forearm with a pencil; I still bear the scar. 

My father was on a missionary salary in India, so we thought we were as poor as 
church mice. Still, we employed a servant, who must have been a lot poorer than us. His 
name was Manikam. I remember he used to bring me my lunch every day in a 
skyscraper of circular aluminium tiffin tins and take me for rides on rickshaws through 
narrow streets jammed with tremendous crowds of people. 

We had holidays too - Kodai, up in the mountains, where Trixie, my dog, was bitten 
by something rabid and had to be put down, and Mahabalipuram, on the coast just 
south of Madras, where I learned to swim. Imprinted on my memory for years 
afterwards - until I returned there, in fact, and was able to overlay old memories with 
new ones - were images of the eerie rock-hewn temples of Mahabalipuram, overlooking 
the Bay of Bengal. 

My childhood encounter with India was formative and I am grateful that I was 
introduced at such an impressionable age to its aura of intriguing and impenetrable 
mystery, its velvety warmth and depth, its intense colours, sights, sounds, tastes and 
smells, its joyous, erotic beauty, its cruelty, its love, its passion and its never-ending 
drama of stark contrasts - past and present, sun and storm, desert and meadow, wealth 
and poverty, life and death ... 

My baby sister Susan was born in India and died less than a year later of some 
nameless disease. Then my brother Jimmy was born with an immune system so weak 
that he could not even fight off the most minor infections. Soon he too was teetering on 



the edge of death, his lungs ravaged by Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia - known today 
as one of the most awful opportunistic infections of AIDS. So, on a dark night in March 
1958, when I was about seven and a half years old, I climbed on board an aeroplane 
with my mother and father and tiny, sad, sickly Jimmy almost invisible inside his 
portable oxygen tent. 

And that was it. That was the end of my Indian childhood. 

We flew back through the darkness. We stopped in Egypt, where I saw an ocean of 
sand from the air. We stopped in Zurich. It was snowing and I was bought my first-ever 
bar of Toblerone, a truly unforgettable experience. For a while I somehow became 
briefly separated from my father while we were on the ground and had terrible fears 
that the plane would leave without me. Finally we landed in London, where my parents 
rushed to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in a desperate but ultimately 
hopeless attempt to save Jimmy. Meanwhile, I was taken to Edinburgh by my 
grandmother. There I became entranced by snow, got soaked and frozen playing in it 
and promptly went down with a life-threatening case of pneumonia. 


Indian Atlantis 

Many years later, in the summer of 1992, a letter was forwarded to me by my publishers 
from an Indian lady resident in Canada. She had just read my then newly published 
book The Sign and the Seal and had noticed that it contains a few pages on the subject of 
Atlantis and considers the possibility of a lost civilization destroyed in a flood cataclysm. 
The reason for her letter was to tell me of an Indian tradition, which she rightly thought 
I might not have heard of, that spoke of something quite similar - a great city that had 
been swallowed up by the sea thousands of years previously. The name of the city, she 
said, had been ‘Dwarka’ or ‘Dvaraka’ and it was referred to in India’s sacred texts. More 
interestingly, a team of Indian marine archaeologists had been to the site where Dwarka 
was said to have been submerged and had found the remains of gigantic walls and 
fortifications underwater. 

At the time I received the letter I was already deeply embroiled with research for my 
next book, Fingerprints of the Gods, (eventually published in 1995) and half considering a 
trip to India anyway. By then I was married to Santha, who is of Tamil origin (although 
she was born and brought up in Malaysia), and she too was keen on the idea. But it was 
the synchronicity and obvious potential relevance of the letter from Canada that focused 
our minds. We agreed that we would go if the Dwarka story checked out. 

First I confirmed that there are indeed scriptural references to antediluvian Dwarka in 
ancient Indian texts. There are many. They speak very clearly of Dwarka’s foundation 
in a bygone age by the god Krishna in human form and of its submergence soon after 
Krishna’s death. 

Next I looked to see if Dwarka, which the texts clearly locate in north-western India, 
had any counterpart on land in historical antiquity. I found that not only did it have 



such a counterpart but that there is still, today, a sacred city called Dwarka, which is 
one of India’s major sites of pilgrimage. It is located just where it should be, in the state 
of Gujerat on the north-western corner of the Kathiawar peninsula overlooking the 
Arabian Sea. And as my informant had correctly indicated, Indian marine archaeologists 
(led by S. R. Rao) had been diving about a kilometre off-shore and had discovered a 
very large submerged site. Although no datable artefacts had been found, the ruins had 
been assigned to the ‘late period’ of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, perhaps as late as 
1700 to 1500 bc. 

Santha and I didn’t dive in those days but it still seemed worth going to Dwarka just 
to get the flavour of the place and see if we could learn anything. So we began to plan a 
journey of about five weeks for November and December of 1992. We would go to 
Pakistan first to visit the world-famous Indus valley cities of Mohenjodaro and Harappa 
- cities that had traded with Sumer, cities as old as the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Then we 
would fly north to Nepal to visit Shanti and Ravi, Santha’s two children from her first 
marriage, who were attending the American School in Kathmandu. From Nepal we 
would travel to Delhi, the Indian federal capital, and then east to the state of Orissa to 
the sacred solar temples of Puri and Konarak on the Bay of Bengal. The next stop would 
be Tamil Nadu, so that we could visit Vellore, my childhood home, and explore Santha’s 
connections with southern India. From there we would fly to Gujerat and spend a week 
in Dwarka. 

Well it didn’t quite work out that way. The best-laid plans in India almost never do. 
Riots and demonic hate-killings between Hindus and Muslims had led to a partial 
imposition of martial law. At the same time, for entirely unrelated reasons, the main 
domestic carrier, Indian Airlines, had gone on strike and was stranding passengers all 
over the subcontinent. 

So although we did in the end reach Dwarka on that trip it was not by air but by road. 


The flooding of Dwarka and the descent of the Kali Age 

Indian thought has traditionally regarded history and prehistory in cyclical rather than 
linear terms. In the West time is an arrow - we are born, we live, we die. But in India 
we die only to be reborn. Indeed, it is a deeply rooted idea in Indian spiritual traditions 
that the earth itself and all living creatures upon it are locked into an immense cosmic 
cycle of birth, growth, fruition, death, rebirth and renewal. Even temples are reborn 
after they grow too old to be used safely - through the simple expedient of 
reconstruction on the same site. 

Within this pattern of spiralling cycles, where everything that goes around comes 
around, India conceives of four great epochs or ‘world ages’ of varying but enormous 
lengths: the Krita Yuga, the Treta Yuga, the Davapara Yuga and the Kali Yuga. At the 
end of each yuga a cataclysm, known as pralaya, engulfs the globe in fire or flood. Then 
from the ruins of the former age, like the Phoenix emerging from the ashes, the new age 



begins. 

And so it goes on - birth, growth, fruition, death, rebirth - endlessly across time. At 
the end of each cycle of four ages there is a super-cataclysm and then a new cycle of 
yugas begins. 

Each cycle and each yuga within a cycle is believed in India to possess its own special 
character: the Krita Yuga is a golden age ‘in which righteousness abounds’. The Treta 
Yuga that follows sees a decline and ‘virtue falls short’. In the Davapara Yuga Tying and 
quarrelling expand, mind lessens, truth declines’. In the Kali Yuga ‘men turn to 
wickedness and value what is degraded, decay flourishes and the human race 
approaches annihilation’. 

The story of Dwarka is tightly intertwined with this scheme of things. Reported in the 
ancient Indian epic known as the Mahabaratha (thought to have been composed a few 
hundred years after the Rig Veda) and in later sacred texts such as the Bhagvata Purana 
and the Vishnu Purana, it straddles two of the great world ages. 

Towards the end of the most recent Davapara Yuga, the texts tell us, Dwarka was a 
fabulous city founded on the north-west coast of India. Established and ruled over by 
Krishna (a human avatar of the god Vishnu), it was built on the site of an even earlier 
sacred city, Kususthali, on land that had been reclaimed from the sea: ‘Krishna solicited 
a space of twelve furlongs from the ocean, and there he built the city of Dwarka, 

defended by high ramparts.’ 33 The gardens and the amenities of the city are praised, and 
we understand that it was a place of ritual and splendour. 

Years later, however, as the Davapara Yuga comes to an end, Krishna is killed. The 
Vishnu Purana reports: ‘On the same day that Krishna departed from the earth the 
powerful dark-bodied Kali Age descended. The ocean rose and submerged the whole of 

Dwarka.’ 34 The Age of Kali thus ushered in turns out to be none other than the present 
epoch of the earth - our own. According to the Hindu sages it began just over 5000 

years ago at a date in the Indian calendar corresponding to 3102 BC . 35 It is an age, 
warns the Bhagvata Purana, in which ‘people will be greedy, take to wicked behaviour, 
will be merciless, indulge in hostilities without any cause, unfortunate, extremely 

covetous for wealth and wordly desires ...’ 36 


5 / Pilgrimage to India 


Mahabalipuram became soon celebrated beyond all the cities of the earth; and an account of its magnificence having 
been brought to the gods assembled at the court of Indra, their jealousy was so much excited at it that they sent 
orders to the God of the Sea to let loose his billows and overflow a place which impiously pretended to vie in 
splendour with their celestial mansions. This command he obeyed, and the city was at once overflowed by that 
furious element, nor has it ever since been able to rear its head. 

William Chambers, The Asiatic Researches, vol. 1, 1788 

On the same day that Krishna departed from the earth the powerful dark-bodied Kali Age descended. The ocean rose 
and submerged the whole of Dwarka. 

Vishnu Pur ana 

It is a curious thing that if one wishes to select a date that truly does seem to mark the 
beginning of some kind of ‘new age’ in the Indian subcontinent, then it would have to 
be around about 3100 bc - the epoch traditionally signalled as the beginning of the Kali 
Yuga. It was at this time, at any rate, along the river valleys extending down from the 
Karakoram and Himalayan mountain ranges, that the largest urban civilization of 
antiquity began to stir. As we have seen it would later be called the Indus Valley 
civilization, or the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. 

At its peak around 2500 bc this mysterious prehistoric culture boasted at least six large 
inland cities - others may yet await discovery - with populations in excess of 30,000. 
These urban hubs were linked to hundreds of smaller towns and villages and to several 
key ports like Lothal and Dholavira at strategic locations along its coastline and up its 
navigable rivers. Its borders enclosed an area larger than western Europe - 1.5 million 
square kilometres, extending from Iran in the west and Turkmenia and Kashmir in the 

north to the Godavari valley in the south and beyond Delhi in the east. 1 It also had 
outposts overseas, including a once thriving colony in the Persian Gulf, and it had an 

extensive trading network supported by a large merchant navy. 2 

In November 1992, when Santha and I boarded the PI A flight from London to Karachi, 
I had heard enough about the ‘Indus Valley civilization’ (the only name by which I knew 
it then) to be intrigued by it, but was ignorant about the details. Like most people who 
know of it at all I identified it only with the first two sites to be excavated - Harappa 
and Mohenjodaro - which had attracted worldwide headlines and won everlasting 
renown when they were discovered in the 1920s. 



After spending a day sleeping off jet-lag in a seedy hotel in Karachi we flew north to 
the city of Multan, itself the shrine of a famous Islamic saint. There we found an 
English-speaking taxi-driver who was willing to drive us first north to Harappa, then 
south to Mohenjodaro, and finally to drop us off in Karachi-a total journey of about 
1000 kilometres. 





1 - A - - 

/A 

X. 


* * * 


I T 

* •,»**, J 

. /A * 

/A “ • 

/A 



/A i ^ 

/A i 


HIMACHAL 



v 

PRADESH 

/A /A 


r C 


| A M ^ 

M 

A 


\a A a 




A . A 

M ( 

PUNJAB 

M 

| /A /A /A 4 " J , 


V J 


— /A 

/A J 

T { . . 

<5. * 





/A /A /A 


t -.haryana: uttar 

& /a ' S ' 



PRADESH 



1 \ 

/* 


• r 




Sukkur \ 



'/l 

i 






RAJASTHAN 


% i 






/» 

• Hyderabad 



r— 

\ 




1 


M r\ 


i... 


\ j 




GUJERAT ( 

■T V A_ 



Mohenjodaro 

I’ll pick up a bit of the story from my 1992 notebook, skipping over Harappa since, 
honestly, Mohenjodaro can stand for both places. At the point where the entry begins 
we’ve been on the road for most of the day and are just entering the province of Sind: 

Monday 16 November 1992 

Cross from Punjab into Sind quite late - 9.30 or 10 p.m. Checkpoints fairly thorough. Atmosphere of increased 
security in Sind. Finally arrive in Sukkur, crossing the Sukkur Barrage, around 10.50 p.m. and check into hotel in 
some dusty suburb around 11.50 p.m. 

Hotel receptionist, who also cooks us dinner around midnight, inquires what time we will be leaving in the 
morning. I ask why he wants to know. He says because there is a big security problem in Sind - dacoits (bandits). 
Recently one Japanese and one Taiwanese traveller were kidnapped on the road with a total ransom required of six 
million rupees - their families paid half; Pakistan government paid half. Foreigners very much in demand by 
kidnappers as all are believed to be enormously rich. 

It turns out we must have an escort to drive between Sukkur and Hyderabad via Mohenjodaro. Mohenjodaro 
itself, in Larkana district, is ‘very dangerous’ apparently. 

It also turns out that a police guard will be required at the hotel all night, because we are there, to prevent us 
from being snatched from the room! 

Leave hotel at 9 a.m. next morning accompanied by four armed police escorts in the back of a Toyota pick-up. 
They have an array of weapons - one G3, one AK47 and two much older carbines. 

We follow and discover that we are part of a well-coordinated escort operation that will see us ‘passed’, like the 
baton in a relay race, from police vehicle to police vehicle - a total of fourteen in all between Sukkur and 
Hyderabad. Often the escort cars drive very fast, headlights flashing, sirens sounding, pushing through traffic with 




us behind. In general we are treated like VIPs and the police coordination is impressive with the next vehicle 
already pulling out ahead of us as the previous vehicle pulls in at the end of its jurisdiction. They’re all in touch 
with each other by radio and the whole province of Sind, it seems, is under martial law, controlled by the army, 
with the police subordinate to the army. 

We arrive at Mohenjodaro around 11.30 complete with our police escort - at this point four guards in a lorry 
with two up front. En route we have broken down once and spent an hour at the side of the road with the four 
armed policemen standing in a cordon around us, presumably to prevent us from being snatched by the twenty or so 
Sindhi villagers who milled curiously and unthreateningly around us in their little Sindhi hats. 

At any rate, we go straight into the site, still closely followed and guarded by our armed escorts, who politely 
refuse to leave us alone, even for a second, advising that there would be a real risk of our being snatched if they did. 
We therefore progress through the dusty ruins with an entourage of armed men. It all feels slightly surreal and 
peculiar. 

Because the Harappan culture only very rarely decorated the bricks used in the construction of its massive 
buildings, Sir Mortimer Wheeler [The Indus Civilization, 3rd edition, 1968] describes the vast remnants of 
Mohenjodaro as ‘impressive quantitatively and significant sociologically’ but ‘aesthetically miles of monotony’. 3 
Surveying the very extensive brick ruins through the heat-haze of midday, I found little to disagree with in 
Wheeler’s words. There is a certain monotony and sameness about the acres of red brick under the red dust that lies 
everywhere. At the same time, paradoxically, this strange place manages to be overwhelming: dense, solid, truly 
impenetrable. 

We approach the main area of ruins up some steep steps and around the western edge of the eroded Buddhist 
stupa built here 2000 years ago [long after the Indus-Sarasvati civilization had ceased to exist]. From here there is a 
view down in a westerly direction over the structure that the archaeologists call the ‘Great Bath’ and Mohenjodaro’s 
geometry of neat orderly streets organized into a strict north-south/east-west grid with rows of brick houses and 
covered drains. Beyond the Bath, again towards the west, what’s left of the ‘Granary’. And beyond that the old 
course of the Indus. 



City plan of Mohenjodaro. Based on PossehL (1999). 

The Great Bath - presumed to have been for ritual bathing and purification - looks exactly like a medium-sized 
rectangular swimming pool and measures 11.89 metres in length (north to south) and 7.01 metres wide (east to 
west), the depth being 2.44 metres. 4 The close-jointed brickwork and the use of bitumen damp-courses and gypsum 
mortar to waterproof it all bespeak a high culture with much experience of architecture - experience that could 
not have evolved overnight... Particularly impressive is the drainage system, whereby water was released from the 
Great Bath, passing through a deep channel covered by a high brick corbel vault. 

Moving on from the Great Bath area we then walked half a mile or so to the east of the stupa to the ‘DK’ 
residential area of probably wealthy or noble families. It’s called DK after its unfortunately named excavator, a 
certain D. K. Dikshitar, who worked here in the 1920s. 

DK would have been an imposing residential suburb. Many of its buildings had two, sometimes even three, 
storeys and some walls still stand up to four metres high. Evidence that wooden beams, long since rotted away, once 
supported floorboards and ceilings. Also evidence of municipal street-lighting (lanterns in wall-sockets - one such 
lantern in museum) and municipal refuse collection - with public rubbish-bin enclosures. Even more impressive is 
the obvious concern with sanitation evidenced by the miles of covered drains and by the fact that many of the 
houses had private toilets, somewhat of the modern Western type, which vented down carefully made angled brick 
slipways into the sewers or into refuse pots that stood outside in the street under the vents and that are thought to 
have been cleared away at regular intervals by municipal sewage squads. Inside the main sewage drains themselves, 






spaced at regular intervals and again regularly cleaned out, were rectangular sump-pits that trapped solid waste 
while allowing liquid waste to flow away. 

These people, in short, knew a great deal about urban life and urban architecture. And that knowledge, I’m sure, 
was already old and evolved, handed down, a legacy, when they first began to build Mohenjodaro ... 


Science 

At its peak in the mid-third millennium bc the total inhabited area of Mohenjodaro 
exceeded 250 hectares and it is possible that its population may have risen as high as 

150,000. 5 By then it was part of a vast network of other cities, towns and villages 
within the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, the majority of them built out of baked mud 
bricks produced from moulds with standard proportions. One size of brick (measuring 7 
x 14 x 28 centimetres) was used in house construction, and a different size (10 x 20 
x 40 centimetres) was used in the building of city walls. But both sizes of brick have 

identical proportions: thickness = 1, width = 2x1, length = 4 x l. 6 

Like Mohenjodaro, some of the other Indus-Sarasvati settlements (though by no means 
all) were laid out according to a strict grid with the major thoroughfares and buildings 
accurately aligned to the cardinal directions - north-south and east-west. This suggests a 
high degree of planning and deliberation - after all, in most cultures settlements grow 
up haphazardly, a bit at a time, but apparently that didn’t happen here: in the case of 
many Indus-Sarasvati sites the template was set out right at the beginning. Moreover, 
the precision of the alignments of major structures leaves little doubt that the planners 
employed the services of astronomers in their architectural teams. Several scholars have 
reasonably deduced that astronomy may have been a highly regarded science in the 

Indus-Sarasvati cities and was perhaps linked to whatever religion was practised there. 

It has also been noted that weights and measures found at Mohenjodaro, Harappa 
and many other widely separated Indus-Sarasvati sites are not only extremely accurate 
and consistent but demonstrate a high level of mathematical development. The weights 
appear to have been designed according to a binary scale: 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, etc., up to 

12,800 units (with one unit being equivalent to 0.85 grams). 8 Measures, on the other 
hand, made use of a decimal system: Tn Mohenjodaro a scale was found that is divided 
into precise units of 0.264 inches. The “foot” measured 13.2 inches (equalling 50 x 

0.264).’ 9 Likewise in the Indus-Sarasvati port of Lothal, S. R. Rao excavated a scale with 
tiny divisions of just over 1.7 mm: 

Ten such divisions ... (are equal to ... 17.78 mm. The width of the wall of Lothal dock is 1.78 metres, which is a 
multiple of the smallest division of the Lothal scale marked in decimal ratio. The length of the east-west wall of the 
dock is 20 times its width. Obviously the Harappan engineers followed the decimal division of measurement ... 10 

In Rao’s opinion the material remains of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization-whether in 
terms of the alignments of its city blocks, the design and civil engineering of its efficient 


public sewerage systems, or the use of standardized weights and measures in precise 
mathematical relationships - provide ample proof of ‘the scientific approach of the 

Harappans’. 11 In some cases this approach was so scientific that ‘even today’, as 
Jonathan Kennoyer admits, 

many aspects of Indus technology are not fully understood as scholars attempt to replicate stoneware ceramics from 
ordinary terracotta clay and to reproduce bronze that was as hard as steel. 12 


'Almost everything that was ever written about this civilization before five years 
ago is wrong 

It is inconceivable that a civilization as developed and well organized as the one that 
boomed 4500 years ago along the banks of the Indus and Sarasvati rivers in northern 
India and Pakistan could have simply appeared from nowhere, fully formed, with all its 
principal accomplishments already in place. Common sense suggests that there must 
have been a very long developmental phase - somewhere - before such a civilization 
could have reached maturity. Yet for most of the twentieth century the archaeological 
record refused to reveal evidence of a sufficiently long period of development anywhere 
in the subcontinent. 

The result was a vacuum in which European scholars felt free to conclude that the 
Indus Valley civilization might, in its origins, have been alien to India. Many seem to 
have been attracted to this convenient explanation of the advanced state of Indus- 
Sarasvati culture. For example, as S. P. Gupta points out, not only did Sir Mortimer 
Wheeler teach that Mohenjodaro and Harappa had been destroyed by invading Aryans; 
also he never quite brought himself to accept that cities as advanced as these could 
originally have been the creation of India herself and argued that at least ‘the “idea” of 

“city” as a way of life’ must have come to India ‘from Mesopotamia’. 1 He even tells us, 
Gupta notes with annoyance, 

that at least some Mesopotamian masons must have been working in Mohenjodaro directing the method of 
construction involved in brick masonry. All this simply means that at the operational level not only the ‘idea’ but 
also the ‘men’ came from Mesopotamia to India to give the latter her first cities. 14 

When Wheeler died in 1976 his theory of the Mesopotamian origin of the Indus Valley 
civilization died with him. But the reason it did so had less to do with his passing than 
with the start of excavations in 1974 by the French archaeologist Jean-Frangois Jarrige 
at a previously unexplored site named Mehrgarh overlooking the western edge of the 
Indus valley from the rugged Bolan pass. 

What Jarrige and his team have unearthed since then is the archaeological equivalent 
of the Holy Grail - an intact sequence of occupation layers at Mehrgarh extending 
uninterrupted from approximately 6800 bc, 4000 years before the urban boom at 
Harappa and Mohenjodaro, until the decline of these cities in the second millennium 


BC . 15 The excavations are still actively underway and the pace of analysis at Mehrgarh, 
and other nearby sites such as Nausharo that are equally ancient, has quickened since 
the mid-1990s with results that have a dramatic bearing on the origins of the Indus- 
Sarasvati civilization. Indeed, these results are so dramatic that when we spoke with 
Gregory Possehl by telephone in October 2000 he had this to say: ‘You want to know 
something? I’m teaching a class and I told them that almost everything that was ever 

written about this civilization before five years ago is wrong.’ 16 

In chapter 8 we will return to the mystery of Mehrgarh, but in 1992, when Santha and 
I visited Harappa and Mohenjodaro, I was ignorant of the place and knew nothing of its 
extraordinary implications. 


From the Himalayas to the sea 

After leaving Pakistan on 19 November 1992 we travelled first to Nepal, where the 
bookshops in the narrow streets of Kathmandu’s cosmopolitan Thamel market are 
stocked with interesting and unusual reference works on ancient Indian religious 
thought - including many of the hard-to-find primary texts. At Pilgrims Bookshop I was 
able to buy the entire unabridged six-volume set of Ralph Griffith’s 1881 translations of 
the Rig Veda, the Atharva Veda, the Yajur Veda and the Sama Veda. But, because at that 
point I had no reason to disagree with the 1200-800 bc time-span that scholars assigned 
to the Vedas, I again and again postponed studying these huge, daunting books over the 
next several years and gave my attention instead to texts from Sumer and Old Kingdom 
Egypt, which I supposed to be much more ancient. 

I was about to learn in due course that a new generation of scholars both from within 
and beyond India are beginning to be convinced that the opposite may be true and that 
the Vedic hymns could be, by a margin of several thousand years, the most ancient 
surviving scriptures on earth. In 1992, however, this was just another one of the many 
possibilities about India’s mysterious past that I was ignorant of. 

From Nepal we flew on to northern and eastern India - Delhi, Khajuraho, Puri, 
Konarak - and then south to Tamil Nadu: 

Sunday 6 December 1992 

Arrive Madras around 10 a.m. - with a migraine. Dr Ramni Pulimood, who worked with my father in the 50s at the 
Christian Medical College, has sent a taxi to pick us up. We motor the 150 kms to Vellore, passing the spot where 
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated. There is a small memorial to him which we visit. 

I’m in a coma with my migraine for most of the journey, but rouse myself when we are about 50 kms outside 
Vellore. Is the countryside familiar? I don’t know really. Don’t seem to recognize anything. Then we cross a bridge 
over a very wide dried-out river bed - and I’m sure I remember that from my dreams of childhood, just as I’m sure 
I remember a dried-out river bed suddenly filled to overflowing with the roiling, rearing waters of a flash flood. And 
I remember, too, palm trees bent double in the monsoons, the warm splash of fat drops of rain on my bare back, red 
spider-mites teeming across the earth, and the smell of distant thunder. 


We reach Vellore - a medium-sized, dirty, bustling south Indian town full of garish modern signs and vegetarian 
restaurants. I still remember very little, even when we pull up for a moment right outside the CMC Hospital. 

Then we drive through the town and out again towards the CMC compound. I do seem to remember an old school 
that we pass. Finally I see to my left College Hill rising greenly to a rocky summit and, far away to my right, Toad 
Hill - so named after the toad-shaped boulder that squats on its peak. I do remember both of these landmarks quite 
vividly, and remember climbing them as a child with my dad and our dog Trixie, but the college buildings into 
which we now pull ring no immediate bells. I realize later that this is so because they now stand to either side of a 
busy main road. In the 50s there was no road like this. 

We go to ‘the big bungalow’ and meet Ramni Pulimood, who accommodates us there as previously agreed. Inside, 
I remember the ancient green cloth blinds which were also standard fitments in the Men’s Hostel where we lived 
and in which I once found a trapped bat. 

Half an hour later Ramni and her son drive us out to the Protestant cemetery, where we hope to find my sister 
Susan’s grave. Santha brings flowers, but despite pacing up and down in the peaceful late-afternoon sun we find 
nothing. We ask the caretakers to check the records, but they too fail to find the grave. 



1. On the waterfront, Alexandria. The author (right) and Ashraf Bechai (second right) discussing locations of 
underwater sites with fishermen. 


2. Megalithic blocks of Sidi Gaber, Alexandria - a site unrecognized by orthodox archaeologists. 



3. Megalithic blocks of Sidi Gaber, Alexandria. 




4. The ‘Great Bath’, Mohenjodaro. 



5 . Brick foundations, Mohenjodaro. 




6. Street with intact drainage, Mohenjodaro. 



7. Exposed well-shaft, Mohenjodaro. 






8. The fairytale city of Dwarka. 



9. Sadhu reading the Vedas, Dwarka. 






10. The Dwarkadish temple, dedicated to Lord Krishna, Dwarka. 





11. Vedic school, south India. 



12. An Indian ascetic seeking spiritual enlightenment through detachment from the material world. 



13. Image from ‘the penance of Arjuna’, Mahabalipuram: ascetic performing austerities. 


That evening Santha and I climb College Hill, beautiful as the sun goes down with commanding views over a 
green, half-remembered landscape. 


Vellore • 

Chennai 

•Madras 

Tmiv.inn.itr.il.il. 

Mahabalipuram 

TAMIL NADU 


Madurai (' y 


Trivandrum 


SRI 

I.ANKA , 

INDIAN OCEAN 


Monday 7 December 1992 

Things are coming back a bit more to me now. We visit the CMC Hospital in the morning. Then take a rickshaw to 
Vellore Fort and then back to the CMC compound via the Protestant cemetery once again. Still we can’t find the 
grave. It’s strange to reflect that my sister lies buried and forgotten somewhere here. I dreamed of her a few nights 
ago, dreamed that she spoke to me. I would like to have known her and-really for the first time - am acutely aware 
of a missing presence in my life. It’s all years ago now, and far away, but I do miss you, Susan. I wish I could just 
pick up the phone and call you sometimes. Instead I’m an only child, wandering in a graveyard, feeling sorry for 
myself. 

Santha and I complete our visit to Vellore by exploring the CMC compound. I remember the lily-pond - still there 
- with its frogs. And I do remember the great old tamarind tree and the general outline of the two wings of the 
Men’s Hostel. 

Finally we climb up College Hill again for a last look around and then set off on the four-hour drive to Madras on 
the coast of the Bay of Bengal. 


The mystery of the Seven Pagodas 

The next day our target was Mahabalipuram, 50 kilometres south of Madras, where I 
planned to indulge some more childhood memories - this time of a rock-hewn temple 
standing by the sea. As in Vellore, I didn’t really feel that I was there to do research, 
more on a journey of personal reminiscence. Since the temples were thought to be less 
than 1500 years old, and had been made on the orders of known historical kings, I had 
no reason to expect they might be relevant to my primary interest in the possibility of a 
lost civilization of the last Ice Age more than 12,000 years ago. 

Perhaps it was because I went to Mahabalipuram in this frame of mind in 1992 that it 
gave me back exactly what I expected - i.e. nothing of interest. And yet all along, as I 
was to discover much later, there was something that I needed to know there. It was 
hidden away in an anthology of travellers’ journals and reports edited by a certain 
Captain M. W. Carr in 1869 under the title Descriptive and Historical Papers Relating to the 

Seven Pagodas of the Coromandel Coast 17 I found the anthology in a second-hand 
bookshop in Madras after visiting Mahabalipuram in 1992 but did not read it until the 



year 2000. It was then I discovered for the first time that ‘Seven Pagodas’ is the old 
mariners’ name for Mahabalipuram - and that the Coromandel coast is the coast of the 
Bay of Bengal from Point Calimere in the south to the mouth of the Krishna river in the 
north. 

In one paper J. Goldingham, Esq., writing in 1798, spoke of the part of 
Mahabalipuram that I remembered best from my childhood - the ‘Shore Temple’, carved 
out of solid granite, lashed by waves: 

The surf here breaks far out over, as the Brahmins inform you, the ruins of a city which was incredibly large and 
magnificent ... A Brahmin, about 50 years of age, a native of the place, whom I have had an opportunity of 
conversing with since my arrival in Madras, informed me his grandfather had frequently mentioned having seen the 
gilt tops of five pagodas in the surf, no longer visible. 1 

An earlier traveller’s report, from 1784, describes the main feature of Mahabalipuram as 
a ‘rock, or rather hill of stone’, out of which many of the monuments are carved. This 
outcropping, he says: 

is one of the principal marks for mariners as they approach the coast and to them the place is known by the name 
of ‘Seven Pagodas’, possibly because the summits of the rock have presented them with that idea as they passed: 
but it must be confessed that no aspect which the hill assumes seems at all to authorize this notion; and there are 
circumstances that would lead one to suspect that this name has arisen from some such number of Pagodas that 
formerly stood here and in time have been buried in the waves ... 19 

The same author, William Chambers, then goes on to relate the more detailed oral 
tradition of Mahabalipuram - given to him by Brahmins of the town during visits that 

he made there in 1772 and 1776 20 - that prompted his suspicion of submerged 
structures. 

According to this tradition, which is supported by certain passages in ancient Hindu 

scriptures, 21 the god Vishnu had deposed a corrupt and wicked Raja of these parts at 
some unknown date in the remote past and had replaced him on the throne with the 

gentle Prahlada, whose reign ‘was a mild and virtuous one’. 22 Prahlada was succeeded 
by his son and then by his grandson Bali, said to have been the founder of the once 
magnificent city of Mahabalipuram (which, translated literally, means ‘the city of the 

great Bali’ or more likely ‘the city of the giant Bali’). 2 Bali’s dynasty continued with his 

son Banasura - also portrayed as a giant 24 but during his reign disaster struck: 

Aniruddha, the [grand]son of Krishna, came to his [Banasura’s] court in disguise and seduced his daughter, which 
produced a war in the course of which Aniruddha was taken prisoner and brought to Mahabalipuram; upon which 
Krishna came in person from his capital Dwarka and laid siege to the place/ 3 

Although the god Siva himself fought on the side of Banasura, they could not prevail. 
Krishna found a way to overthrow Siva, captured the city and forced Banasura into 

submission and lifelong fealty. 26 


An interval followed, after which another Raja - whose name was Malecheren - took 
the throne at Mahabalipuram. He encountered a being from the heavenly realms who 
became his friend and agreed ‘to carry him in disguise to see the court of the divine 

Indra’ - a favour that had never before been granted to any mortal: 2 

The Raja returned from thence with new ideas of splendour and magnificence, which he immediately adopted in 
regulating his court and his retinue, and in beautifying his seat of government. By this means Mahabalipuram 
became soon celebrated beyond all the cities of the earth; and an account of its magnificence having been brought to 
the gods assembled at the court of Indra, their jealousy was so much excited at it that they sent orders to the God of 
the Sea to let loose his billows and overflow a place which impiously pretended to vie in splendour with their 
celestial mansions. This command he obeyed, and the city was at once overflowed by that furious element, nor has 
it ever since been able to rear its head. 28 

There are puzzles about this myth. 

First, it was collected, written down and published in the eighteenth century. This was 
long before any of the ancient inscriptions of Mesopotamia could be read, yet the story 
of Mahabalipuram bears some striking resemblances to the flood myths of Mesopotamia. 
In the original Sumerian flood text cited in chapter 2, and in all later variants of it - 
including the Babylonian versions, the Old Testament account of the flood of Noah and, 

for that matter, Plato’s (supposedly unrelated) story of Atlantis 29 - the gods are angry 
with or jealous of mankind, exactly as they are said to have been in the Mahabalipuram 
myth. In all the other myths (with the exception of the Noah story) the gods meet in 
assembly - again as they are said to have done at Mahabalipuram - before resolving to 
destroy upstart mankind by sending a flood. And in all the other myths cities and cult 
centres are submerged by the flood: 

Sumer: ‘All the windstorms, exceedingly powerful, attacked as one; at the same time the flood swept over the cult 
centres.’ 

Mahabalipuram: ‘The God of the Sea ... let loose his billows and ... the city was at once overflowed by that furious 
element...’ 

It is also obvious that there are resonances between the Mahabalipuram flood tradition 
from south-eastern India and the Dwarka flood tradition from the north-west. It is not 
just that Dwarka is specifically mentioned in the Mahabalipuram story (somewhat 
surprising in itself) but also that Mahabalipuram and Dwarka, like lost Atlantis and the 
five antediluvian cities of Sumer, all suffer the same fate - which is to be swallowed up 
by the sea. 

In the case of Dwarka there is also another matter to consider - the end of the former 
age of the earth and the dawn of the Kali Yuga. 


Travels in the Kali Yuga 


Our journey from Mahabalipuram to Dwarka in December 1992 was fraught with 
reminders that we live in the Kali Yuga today - an age of spiritual darkness that the 
Vedic sages always knew would be filled with the worst kinds of human cruelty and evil. 
On 6 December 1992 Hindu kar savaks (volunteers) violently attacked and pulled down 
the mosque at Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh intent on building a new temple for Ram 
(Rama, another incarnation of Vishnu), whose birthplace is believed to have been on the 
site of the mosque. This act of ‘reclamation’ sparked off a wave of violence and mass 
murder between Hindus and Muslims throughout India which reached a peak in the city 
of Surat on the Gulf of Cambay in south-western Gujerat. There whole families were 
roasted alive on fires made up of heaps of their own possessions and in one grisly 
incident a woman was subjected to multiple rape by a crowd of frenzied males, then 
burned, and finally beheaded with a sword. 

With martial law declared in most cities and go-slows and strikes being staged by 
Indian Airlines, it took us two days to fly via Madras and Trivandrum to Bombay. From 
there we arranged to travel the remaining 1000 kilometres or so to Dwarka by road and 
hired a Maruti van (a motorized roller-skate) and a stalwart Gujerati driver named 
Vinhod to get us there. 

Saturday 12 December 1992 

Set off north from Bombay in our little Maruti van. The country towards Gujerat is surprisingly lush, jungly and 
hilly. The roads are completely crazy and this is an interminable day of driving. It becomes clear that we cannot 
reach Dwarka in less than two full days like this, and that we may require three - so we set our sights for the first 
night on Lothal, the Indus-Sarasvati port of the third millennium bc that lies in central Gujerat near the northern 
end of the Gulf of Cambay. Unfortunately, Vinhod and most people along the way don’t seem to know where or 
what Lothal is and the maps we have are not clear. But part by luck, part by trial and error, we arrive at a truck stop 
called Pakota late, late at night which turns out to be just 18 kms from Lothal. One of the truckers directs us to a 
rundown hotel. 


Lothal and the ships from Meluha 

Lothal turned out to be a quiet sleepy mound in the midst of flat, productive 
countryside, but in the third millennium bc it was the greatest port of the Indus Valley 
civilization, connected to the sea by a tidal river channel that has long since dried up. 
Its dominant architectural feature still surviving today is its great trapezoidal dock. 

A major problem with river ports in general is that they can quickly become choked 
by silt and useless. At Lothal a scientific solution was found to this problem 4500 years 
ago. First a huge artificial basin was cut into the ground on the eastern side of the town. 
Then a walled structure measuring 219 metres in length (north-south), 38 metres in 
width (east-west) and 4.15 metres high, was built into it. The walls were almost 1.78 
metres thick at the base, narrowing to just over 1 metre thick at the top, and millions of 

the best quality kiln-fired bricks were used in their construction. 30 According to the 
report of S. R. Rao, Lothal’s excavator, the inner faces of the dock walls are plumb and 


‘no steps or ramps are provided anywhere as the primary purpose was to see that the 
edge of the boat should touch the wall-top to facilitate easy landing and handling of 

cargo’. 1 At the same time ‘three offsets were provided on the outer face of the western 
wall and two in the case of other walls to resist the overturning movement due to water 

thrust’. 32 

The dock has a major inlet in its north wall, a second inlet at the southern end of its 
east wall and a spillway, fitted with an efficient water-locking device, in its south: 33 

Ships entering the Gulf of Cambay had to be moored along the river quay on the western side of the town and 
sluiced into the basin at high tide through the first inlet (12 metres wide) provided in the northern arm. A spillway 
with 1.5 metre thick walls was built at right angles to the southern arm for escape of excess water at high tide. The 
water-locking device provided in the spillway ensured a minimum draught at low water [2 metres as against 3.5 
metres at high water]. Easy manoeuvrability of large ships of 60 to 75 tons capacity and measuring 18 to 20 metres 
long was possible as they could enter from the shorter side and move along the longer side. The easy flow of water at 
high tide through the basin ensured automatic desilting. The scouring effect of the tidal waters was arrested by 
constructing a buttress wall on either margin of the inlet, traces of which can be seen in the case of the northern 
inlet and more clearly in the second-stage inlet. When the river changed its course and started flowing 2 kms away 
from the town, a new inlet 2 metres deep, was dug to connect the river with the eastern arm of the dock, but large 
ships could not enter the basin after 2000 bc. ' 

Archaeologists and engineers are in little doubt that the design of the dock testifies to a 
long-accumulated experience within the Indus-Sarasvati civilization of the particular 
problems and challenges posed by such structures. According to N. K. Panikkar and T. 
M. Srinivasan: 

The Lothal dock being purely a tidal one, the Lothal engineers must have possessed adequate knowledge of tidal 
effects, the amplitude, erosion and thrust. From this knowledge they developed competence at Lothal for receiving 
ships at high tide and ensuring flotation of ships inside the dock at low tide. This is perhaps the earliest example of 
knowledge of tidal phenomena being put to a highly practical purpose both in the selection of site having the 
highest tidal amplitude and in adopting a method of operation for entry and exit of ships. 35 

The builders of Lothal lived in the same epoch of early history as the builders of the 
wonderful Great Pyramid of Egypt and - though obviously on a smaller scale - the dock 
is a reminder that the peoples of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization possessed a scientific 
approach, design skills, and hands-on experience of construction problems comparable 
to those that were evident amongst the ancient Egyptians. 

Moreover, it is thought likely that there were both direct and indirect contacts 
between the Nile and Indus valleys, and between Asia and Africa in general, going back 
to very ancient times. In the on-site museum at Lothal we were able to see certain items 
excavated by Rao’s team that are indicative of this. These include a terracotta figurine 
of a gorilla, a species that is found only in sub-Saharan Africa, and a second terracotta 

figure reminiscent of an Egyptian mummy. 36 


Finds in Egypt also suggest contact. Of special interest, because it dates back to the 
predynastic ‘Gerzean’ period (roughly 3500-3300 bc ), 37 is a ripple-flaked flint-bladed 
knife with a beautifully carved ivory handle that was excavated at Gebel-el-Arak in 
Upper Egypt. In one of the reliefs that decorate the handle a bearded man in fine robes 
is depicted gripping two powerful male lions by the throat. According to the 
Egyptologist and art historian Cyril Aldred, this scene ‘shows, subduing two lions, a hero 

who resembles the Mesopotamian Gilgamesh, “Lord of the Beasts’”. 38 Aldred notes that 
‘this same unusual theme appears on a wall-painting in a Gerzean tomb at 

Hierakonopolis’ 39 - which is indeed the case. He seems unaware, however, that, with 
minor variations, the scene also appears in the art of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization - 
for example, on ornate terracotta and steatite seals, excavated in many sites, and on a 
particularly striking moulded tablet from Harappa that Jonathan Mark Kennoyer 
describes as: 

a figure strangling two tigers with bare hands [which] may represent a female, as a pronounced breast can be seen 
in profile. Early discoveries of this motif on seals from Mohenjodaro definitely show a male figure, and most 
scholars have assumed some connection with the carved seals from Mesopotamia that illustrate episodes from the 
famous Gilgamesh epic. The Mesopotamian motifs show lions being strangled by a hero, whereas the Indus 
narratives render tigers being strangled by a figure, sometimes clearly male, sometimes ambiguous or possibly 
female. This motif of a hero or heroine grappling with two wild animals could have been created independently for 
similar events that may have occurred in Mesopotamia as well as the Indus Valley. 40 



Gilgamesh-like figure between two felines from a bronze breastplate, Tiahuanaco. 


Perhaps. But I wonder if Kennoyer’s conclusion is not a little hasty, and whether it is 
strengthened or weakened by the fact that almost identical figures of a ‘man between 
two felines’ have also been found amongst the art of the prehistoric megalithic city of 

Tiahuanaco in South America. 41 Such similarities may depict similar events that occurred 
by coincidence in different places, but other explanations might also fruitfully be sought 




for why the same - ‘unusual’ - symbolic device is found in ancient Egypt, ancient 
Mesopotamia, the ancient Indus-Sarasvati civilization and ancient South America. 



Gilgamesh-like figure between two felines from a Gerzean period knife, Egypt 


On the other side of the Gebel-el-Arak knife handle is a second scene that suggests 
contact between Indus-Sarasvati peoples, predynastic Egyptians and the ancient 
civilizations between the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers in Mesopotamia. In Aldred’s 
description it shows a water battle in progress: ‘In the upper row, the boats have 
vertical prows and sterns rather like the belems of the Tigris, in the lower they have the 

normal appearance of Egyptian boats of Gerzean date.’ 42 But the archaeologist Ernest J. 
H. Mackay, who carried out extensive excavations in both Egypt and the Indus valley 
during the first half of the twentieth century, noticed something else. Describing a 
representation of a boat carved on a seal that he found at Mohenjodaro, he commented: 

The bindings of its hull suggest that this boat was made of bundles of reeds, as were so many contemporary craft of 
ancient Egypt. It is mastless, which perhaps indicates that it is a river boat. The uprights at either end of the cabin 
carry flags or emblems and a seated steersman holds a pair of rudders, as on the modern Indus craft. This vessel, it is 
interesting to note, is singularly the one portrayed on the well known Gebel-el-Arak ivory knife handle. 4 3 

The specific comparison being made here is to the mastless boats with high prows and 
sterns, which Aldred separately likens to Tigris river craft, and while the similarities 
cannot be taken as conclusive evidence of contact amongst all three regions in 
prehistory they are at least suggestive. Thor Heyerdahl showed long ago with his Tigris 

and Ra expeditions that reed-boats are capable of trans-oceanic journeys. 44 Besides 
many representations and terracotta models of masted sea-going boats have been found 
in Indus-Sarasvati sites - and at Lothal itself trade goods and inscribed seals from the 

Persian Gulf have been excavated. 45 

The indications are that the bulk of this trade was carried on ships of the Indus- 
Sarasvati civilization - a civilization that was known to its neighbours in the Persian 

Gulf as Meluha. 46 Inscriptions from ancient Babylon and Akkad speak proudly of the 
number of great boats from Meluha that have moored in their harbours. Five such 
references have been found in the cuneiform records of the time before Hammurabi 




(1792 bc ). 47 One concerns Sargon of Akkad (2334-2279 bc) and tells us: ‘the ships from 
Meluha ... he made tie up alongside the quay of Akkad’. 48 

Interestingly, a terracotta seal from Mohenjodaro shows a large high-prowed ship 
with a spacious on-deck cabin. Fore and aft of the cabin perch two birds which 

archaeologists believe are ‘land-finding birds [diskakas]’. 49 As the reader will 
undoubtedly be aware, many ancient traditions of the global flood, not least the biblical 
story of Noah, make prominent mention of the role played in the navigation of the 

survival ship by birds just such as these. 50 


The city of Krishna 

After leaving Lothal in the late afternoon we spent another night on the road at 
Jamnagar, the regional capital, and completed our journey to Dwarka the next 
morning. This final two-hour leg was across the barren, sun-baked flatlands of Gujerat’s 
Kathiawar peninsula, uninhabited and for the most part overgrown with thorn trees and 
scrub vegetation. Through the open windows of the van we began to sense first the 
humidity, then the salty tang, of the approaching Arabian Sea. Next, a glimpse of 
distant water came into view and, rising above it through the heat haze, a shimmering 
pyramidal mound, topped by the spectacular Dwarkadish temple, sacred to Lord 

Krishna, soaring skywards on its 72 granite columns.' At the apex of the mirage 
fluttered a colourful flag decorated with astronomical symbols, while around its base the 
medieval labyrinth of Dwarka’s streets and houses clustered tightly packed, as though 
seeking protection. 

We asked Vinhod to bring us closer and we eventually pulled up in a crowded market 
area directly in front of the temple. From this vantage point I could make out weird 
figures like the gargoyles of a Gothic cathedral carved into the corners of the roof and 
walls - here an elephant, there a swan, there a winged sphinx with a woman’s face ... It 
was easy to imagine the temple as an avatar’s palace magically brought into being in 
the midst of the sea, charged with the mantric energy of pilgrims’ prayers and 
surrounded by a force-field of divine grace. 

In Book X of the Bhagvata Purana we read how Krishna used ‘his supernatural yogic 

powers’, 52 in a crisis of battle, to transfer all his people to Dwarka where he could 
protect them from the enemy in ‘a fortress inaccessible to human beings’ [literally 
‘bipeds’]: 

the Lord caused a fortress constructed in the western sea. In the fortress he got built a city twelve yojanas (96 miles) 
in area and wonderful in every respect. 

The building of the city exhibited the expertise in architecture and the skill in masonry of Tvastr, the architect of 
the gods. The roads, quadrangles, streets and residential areas were constructed in conformity to the prescribed 
tenets of the science of architecture pertaining to city building. 


In that city, gardens planted with celestial trees and creepers and wonderful parks were laid out. It was built with 
sky-scraping, gold-towered buildings and balconies of crystals. It had barns built of silver and brass which were 
adorned with gold pitchers. The houses therein were of gold and big emeralds. 53 

But that was the first Dwarka, the original Dwarka - India’s lost Atlantis swallowed up 
by the sea long ago at the beginning of the Kali Age. This Dwarka of today, whatever it 
was, and this Krishna temple, were much more recent-built to commemorate the 
inundated city perhaps, but not to be confused with it. 

Santha and I checked into a mosquito-infested hotel with the bonus of several dozen 
hornets drowsing irritably in the curtains of our room and then took a stroll through the 
town in the late afternoon. It was dusty, of course, dirty, of course. There were people, 
everywhere, of both sexes and all age-groups - selling to one another, buying from one 
another. Nobody seemed to be miserable or angry or in a grouchy mood. A whole 
menagerie of animals roamed the streets, grunting and squawking, barking and 
mewing, bleating and mooing. There were cows everywhere - a normal sight in Hindu 
India but here the sacred animals seemed to be more than usually serene and unhurried. 
I suppose it helps that just about everybody in Gujerat, and definitely everybody in 
Dwarka, is a strict vegetarian - so strict that not only are animals safe from them but 
also eggs, onions and garlic as well. 

Through the maze of narrow lanes and cobbled alleyways lined with tiny, garish one- 
roomed shops and makeshift stalls we worked our way down to the bank of the Gomati 
river where it runs along the edge of the town and enters the Arabian Sea. Here, a large 
group of giggling children fed breadcrumbs to small fish, and orange-robed sadhus, their 
faces smeared with ash, sat with their backs to an ancient brick wall, reciting verses 
from the Rig Veda. The air was filled with frankincense and ganja and the sound of 
chanting, and the December sun, setting out over the sea to the south-west, had infused 
the vast horizon with an otherworldly glow. 

Continuing the remaining few hundred metres along the embankment in the 
gathering dusk we came to the small circular temple of Samudranarayana - the temple 
of Samudra, God of the Ocean - perched directly above the point where the Gomati 
flows into the sea. A breeze was picking up, stirring the waves into white caps, and I 
walked to the edge of the jetty and looked out. 

I had read the reports of the marine archaeologists and I knew that a city of gigantic 
proportions lay underwater less than a kilometre in front of me. I reminded myself that 
a conjectural date of approximately 1700-1500 bc had been assigned to the site by S. R. 
Rao and that he believed it to be one of the late works of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization 
- much too late to have had anything to do with any hypothetical lost civilization of the 
last Ice Age. 

But there were areas of doubt. Although it seemed astonishing, and was perhaps just 
the result of incomplete research on my part, I had not been able to find evidence in the 
scientific literature that any Indus-Sarasvati artefacts-though reasonably plentiful in the 
countryside round about - had ever been recovered from the submerged ruins of Dwarka 


(or, for that matter, evidence that any datable objects of any kind had ever been found 
there). All that the archaeologists had discovered underwater were the looming remains 
of huge stone walls built of undatable megalithic blocks often interlocked with one 
another by means of L-shaped dovetails. Since there were thick silt deposits around the 
site, it was possible that many further structures remained as yet unexcavated beneath 
those that had already been mapped. Moreover, no thorough survey had been done 
further out from the shore in water that was deeper than 20 metres. 

All in all it seemed to me that the chronology that the archaeologists had proposed 
here might be right or might be wrong, but was far from settled. And what complicated 
the picture even more was the opaque history of relative sea-level rise in this part of 
India which had included several intense episodes of tectonic activity to do with 
mountain-building in the Himalayas during the past 20,000 years. It had therefore 
proved difficult to establish the date of Dwarka’s submergence from geological clues 
alone. 

The sun was now half-sunk in the ocean and the light was fading fast as the waves 
piled up against the jetty. 

It would be another four years before I learned to dive and four more after that before 
I could return to Dwarka to explore the underwater city. 



6 / The Place of the Ship’s Descent 


Sages who searched with their heart’s thought discovered the existent’s kinship in the non-existent ... Who verily 
knows and who can here declare it, whence it was born and whence comes this creation? The Gods are later than 
this world’s production. Who knows then whence it first came into being? He, the first origin of this creation, 
whether he formed it all or did not form it, whose eye controls the world in highest heaven, he verily knows it, or 
perhaps he knows not... 

Rig Veda (Book 10, Hymn 129, Verses 4-7, Griffith translation) 

‘Scientific progress in historical genetic, linguistic and archaeological research has proved 
during the past decade that the Hebrew Torah - which is the fundamental scripture oj 
Judaism and which also serves Christians as the Old Testament of the Bible - is not the work 
of the Jewish people, and in fact that there is no reason to believe today that there ever was a 
Jewish race that spoke the Hebrew language and was possessed of a coherent or well-defined 
set of Jewish or Hebraic cultural features. ’ 

Suppose that this statement is supported by powerful evidence and, moreover, that it 
comes from a distinguished academic source - a Professor at the University of 
Pennsylvania for example - regarded as a world authority on Jewish culture. Having 
just read the statement, and knowing the authority of its source are you: Shocked? 
Surprised (that you have not seen any headlines on this)? Sceptical? Disbelieving? 
Disoriented (if the Jews didn’t write the Old Testament, then who did)? Angry? All of 
the above? None of the above? Or do you know enough about the Torah and about 
Jewish culture to have realized at once that the statement is a complete fabrication? No 
such scientific evidence has ever been produced and the identification of the Torah with 
the Jewish people and the Hebrew language remains unassailable today. This is so 
because the sacred book is comprehensively rooted and grounded in a known cultural 
background of great antiquity and fits perfectly into its historical and archaeological 
context. 

The same cannot be said of the Rig Veda, the fundamental scripture of Hinduism. The 
abandonment by scholars of the theory that India was invaded around 1500 bc by a 
people calling themselves the Aryas, and the recognition that there never was any such 
thing as an Aryan race that spoke Indo-European languages, have had the unfortunate 
side-effect of orphaning the Rig - because it was hitherto believed that these very same 
Aryas had been its authors. We’ve also seen how it has been claimed by Renfrew and 
others - probably correctly-that Indo-European languages have been present in north 
India for at least 8000 years. Logically, therefore, the fact that the Rig Veda is expressed 
in Sanskrit-an Indo-European language - can no longer be used to substantiate a 
chronology for the Rig Veda that brings the culture that is supposed to have composed it 
into India (via the non-existent Aryan ‘invasion’) as late as 1500 bc. 

In other words, the ship of the Vedas presently has no one at the helm. These sublime 
hymns, these cleverly coded riddles from antiquity, which form the core scripture of a 



thousand million Hindus in the twenty-first century, now stand in the astonishing 
position of having no known authors, no known cultural background and no known 
historical or archaeological context into which they fit. Moreover, although their 
moorings to an ‘Aryan’ race in 1500 bc have been severed, most orthodox historians and 
archaeologists living outside the Indian subcontinent seem content to leave the Vedas 
drifting and unassigned - the scriptures of no known people composed at no known 
time. 

In such a situation where history has little to offer and a huge blunder to retract, it 
becomes reasonable to inquire: what do the Vedas have to say on the subject of their 
own origins? 


Some points of terminology, some basic information 

In ancient Sanskrit the word veda means ‘knowledge’, 4 gnosis’, ‘insight’ (deriving from 
the root vid, meaning ‘to see, to know’), 1 and the word rig [rc or rik) means ‘verses’ or 

‘hymns’. 2 So Rig Veda means ‘Verses’ or ‘Hymns’ of ‘Knowledge’. We’ve seen that there 
are three other Vedas. These are, respectively, the Sama Veda - the Veda of song or 
chanted hymn (a reordering for liturgical purposes of certain verses of the Rig with new 

verses added); 3 the Yajur Veda - an annotated text of the instructions and sacrificial 

formulae required at Vedic rituals; 4 and the Atharva Veda, which Gregory Possehl 
describes as the ‘least understood of the Vedas ... a book of magic, spells and 

incantations in verse’ 5 and Griffith as ‘the Veda of Prayers, Charms and Spells’. 6 

As well as these, many Indian scholars also list the following massive and venerable 
bodies of text within the Vedic corpus: 7 the Brahmanas (very ancient prose commentaries 
on the Vedas), 8 the Arankyas (a later development of the Brahmanas, given over to 
‘secret explanations of the allegorical meaning of the Vedas’) 9 and the Upanishads 
(philosophical speculations arising out of the Vedasf 10 

The Upanishads are often referred to in Sanskrit as the Vedanta, meaning ‘conclusion 
of the Veda’, since they are thought to represent the final stage in the tradition of the 

Vedas. 1 However, there are other important later texts of Hinduism which unerringly 
continue the same essential teaching and cosmology rooted and grounded in the Vedas, 
and which will therefore also be cited in this inquiry from time to time. These include 
the Mahabaratha (which is about eight times as long as Homer’s Odyssey and Iliad put 

together!), 12 the Ramayana, and the Puranas. The Mahabaratha and the Ramayana are 
both epics consisting of a mass of legendary and instructive material worked around a 

central heroic narrative. 13 Embedded within the vast text of the Mahabaratha is the 
famous Bhagvad Gita, (‘Song of the Lord’), described as ‘the single most important text of 

Hinduism’. 14 The Ramayana, which tells of the deeds of the hero Rama, an incarnation of 


Krishna, is traditionally ascribed to the semi-legendary poet Valmiki. 15 Last but not 
least, the Puranas (Sanskrit for ‘Ancient Lore’) are collections of myth, legend and 

genealogy. 16 

A generally agreed chronology for all these texts (with arguments usually about 
periods of hundreds rather than thousands of years) is in use amongst scholars. We saw 
earlier that the Rig Veda tends to be dated anywhere in a broad range from 1500 bc (the 
supposed date of the non-existent Aryan invasion of India) down to 800 bc. Dr John E. 
Mitchiner, a great authority on the ancient Sanskrit texts, prefers a narrower range of 
1400-1100 bc for the Rig, with the Sama and Yajur Vedas dated 1200-1000 bc, the Atharva 
Veda 1300-900 bc, the Brahmanas 900-600 bc, the Aranyakas 700-500 bc, the Upanishads 
600-400 bc, the Mahabaratha 350 bc - ad350, the Ramayana 250BC - AD 200 , and the Puranas 

AD200-1 500. 1 

While this is convenient as a summary of what is still, amazingly, the accepted 
scholarly chronology, I feel it is essential to bear in mind that these dates are a house of 
cards founded on the redundant hypothesis of an Aryan invasion of India in the second 
millennium bc. Whether starting in 1500 bc, 1400 bc or 1200 bc, the timelines that have 
been suggested for the compilation and codification of the Rig Veda all rest on this now 
thoroughly falsified and bankrupt idea. And since the chronology that scholars have 
‘established’ for the Rig is the foundation of the entire literary history of India, it follows 
that if the previously accepted dates for it are proved by further research to be badly in 
error then the dates for much of what comes after it are also likely to be wrong. In this 
connection, Mitchiner himself concedes that ‘the dating of Sanskrit texts is a notoriously 

difficult problem’ 18 - one that is further complicated by many texts ‘which may be 
relatively late in their overall or final composition yet contain passages of considerable 

antiquity alongside much later additions’. 19 

Amidst this tangled maze of texts, all of which once lived as memorized recitations 
within an oral tradition before they were written down, only one story is offered - the 
same story repeated again and again with minor variations and additions - as an 
explanation and account of the origins of the Vedas. This is the story of Manu, the father 
of mankind - India’s Noah - and of a mysterious brotherhood of ascetics called the 
‘Seven Sages’, said in many of the recensions to have accompanied Manu in the Ark 
when the great flood overtook the world. 


The father of mankind 

Manu (whose name has the same root as the English word man) was the first and 
greatest patriarch and legislator of the Vedic peoples and is unambiguously described 
throughout the ancient texts as the preserver and father of mankind and of all living 

things. Ralph Griffith, the translator of the Vedas, describes him as ‘the representative 


man and father of the human race and the first institutor of religious ceremonies’. 21 And 
in the Rig Veda the people who called themselves the ‘Aryas’ - an epithet meaning 
literally the ‘noble’, or ‘pure’, or ‘good’ or ‘enlightened’ folk (a puzzle that we shall 

return to in another chapter) - are also referred to as ‘Manu’s progeny’, 22 while Manu is 

known as ‘Father Manu’ 23 and even the gods are named as ‘Manu’s Holy Ones’. 24 At the 
same time the Rig does not take the trouble, anywhere, to tell us exactly what it was that 
Manu supposedly did to earn these honorifics; only that the events took place ‘long 

ago’. 25 

Manu’s literary predicament much resembles that of Osiris in ancient Egypt. Nowhere 
in the entire corpus of ancient Egyptian scripture, from the Pyramid Texts to the last 
versions of the Book of the Dead, is the full story of Osiris ever told. We get fragments of 
it, bits and pieces here and there, records of his titles and honorifics, many axioms (‘the 
truth is great and mighty and it has never been broken since the time of Osiris’, etc. but 
never a connected, continuous narrative which states clearly what it was that Osiris did 
to deserve all this honour and prominence. Only in a later, non-Egyptian, text - 
Plutarch’s Isis and Osiris - does the whole story come out. Plutarch states that his sources 
were Egyptian priests and the details that he provides are so convincingly identical to 
the much more fragmentary details contained in the much earlier ancient Egyptian 
material that each, in a way, provides corroboration for the other. Scholars therefore 
believe that Plutarch got the story just about right and that it was never spelled out in 
detail in the earlier scriptures because it was simply too well known for this to be 

necessary. 26 

It looks as though the same sort of process must have been at work within the Rig 
Veda. Here, like Osiris for the Egyptians, Manu is a household name even incorporated 

into aphorisms such as ‘may we speak like Manu’ 27 - which, Griffith says, was 
universally understood to mean ‘with the wisdom and authority of Manu who was 

instructed directly by the Gods’. 2 " Yet nowhere in the Rig is there anything even 
remotely resembling a continuous Manu narrative which would explain the awe within 
which he was held and the fundamental role assigned to him as the saviour and the 
progenitor of Vedic civilization. As with the case of Osiris in Egypt, it is probably safe to 
assume the full story of Manu was simply so well known amongst the practitioners of 
the Vedas that the composers and compilers saw no need to spell it out in detail. 


A flood to carry away all creatures 

The earliest surviving glimpse of a more complete version of the story of Manu is 
provided by the Satpatha Brahmana. The setting is antediluvian India some years before 
it is to be destroyed by the flood and Manu is a king and leader of men (specifically 
identified in the later Bhagvata Parana with ‘a South Indian or Dravidian king named 

Satyavrata’): 29 


In the morning they brought to Manu water for washing the hands. When he was washing himself a fish came into 
his hands. It spake to him the word ‘Rear me, I will save thee!’ ‘Wherefrom wilt thou save me?’ ‘A flood will carry 
away these creatures: from that I will save thee.’ ‘How am I to rear thee?’ It said, ‘As long as we are small, there is 
great destruction for us: fish devours fish. Thou wilt first keep me in ajar. When I outgrow that, thou wilt dig a pit 
and keep me in it. When I outgrow that, thou wilt take me down to the sea for then I shall be beyond destruction.’ It 
soon became a large fish ... Thereupon it said, ‘In such and such a year that flood will come. Thou shalt attend to 
me [i.e. to my advice] by preparing a ship; and when the flood has risen thou shalt enter into the ship and I shall 
save thee from it.’ After he had reared it in this way, he took it down to the sea. And in the same year which the 
fish had indicated to him, he attended to the advice of the fish by preparing a ship; and when the flood had risen he 
entered into the ship. The fish then swam up to him, and to its horn he tied the rope of the ship and by that means 
he passed swiftly up to yonder northern mountain. It then said, ‘I have saved thee. Fasten the ship to a tree; but let 
not the water wash thee away J whilst thou art on the mountain. As the water subsides, thou mayest gradually 
descend!’ Accordingly he gradually descended, and hence that slope of the northern mountain is called ‘Manu’s 
descent’. 31 

In this version, Manu survives the deluge alone, with no mention of the ‘Seven Sages’ 
and with no other human companions. How then does he qualify for his Vedic role as 
the father of mankind? 

According to the Satpatha Brahmana: 

Being desirous of offspring, he engaged in worshipping and austerities. During this time he also ... offered up in the 
waters clarified butter, sour milk, whey and curds. Thence a woman was produced in a year ... With her he went on 
worshipping and performing austerities, wishing for offspring. Through her he generated this race, which is this 
race of Manu ... 32 


‘The ship whirled like a reeling and intoxicated woman 

Maintaining the sequence of the established chronology, the next properly connected 
version of the Manu story comes to us in the Mahabaratha. In this recension of the old 
tale Manu is not a king but a powerful rishi (sage, seer) who spends a supernaturally 
long time practising yogic austerities: 

standing with uplifted arm, on one foot, he practised intense, austere fervour. This direful exercise he performed 
with his head downwards, and with unwinking eyes, for 10,000 years. Once, when clad in dripping rags with 
matted hair, he was so engaged, a fish came to him on the banks [of a river] and spake, ‘Lord I am a small fish; I 
dread the stronger ones, and from them you must save me.’ 33 

With a few more details the tale then proceeds in the same manner as in the Satpatha 
Brahmana with the fish being cared for and attended to by the kindly Manu, outgrowing 
various habitats and finally being placed by him in the ocean: 

When he had been thrown into the ocean he said to Manu: ‘Great lord, thou hast in every way preserved me: now 
hear from me what thou must do when the time arrives. Soon shall all these terrestrial objects ... be dissolved. The 
time for the purification of the worlds has now arrived. I therefore inform thee what is for thy greatest good. The 


period dreadful for the universe has come. Make for thyself a strong ship, with a cable attached; embark in it with 
the Seven Sages and stow in it, carefully preserved and assorted, all the seeds which have been described of old ... 
When embarked in the ship, look out for me: I shall come recognizable by my horn ... These great waters cannot be 
crossed over without me. 

When the deluge came: 

Manu, as enjoined, taking with him the seeds, floated on the billowy ocean in the beautiful ship. [The arrival of the 
enormous fish is then announced.] When Manu saw the horned leviathan, lofty as a mountain, he fastened the 
ship’s cable to the horn. Being thus attached the fish dragged the ship with great rapidity, transporting it across the 
briny ocean which seemed to dance with its waves and thunder with its waters. Tossed by the tempests the ship 
whirled like a reeling and intoxicated woman. Neither the earth, nor the quarters of the world appeared; there was 
nothing but water, air and sky. In the world thus confounded, the Seven Sages, Manu and the fish were beheld. So, 
for very many years, the fish unwearied drew the ship over the waters; and brought it at length to the highest peak 
of Himavat [the Himalayas], He then smiling gently, said to the Sages, ‘Bind this ship without delay to this peak.’ 
They did so accordingly. And the highest peak of Himavat is still known by the name of Naubandhana (‘the Binding 
of the Ship’). 35 

Thereafter, through his advanced yogic powers Manu, the father, ‘began visibly to 
create all living beings’. 36 

'The sea was seen overflowing its shores 

A third example - amongst so many more that it is invidious to chose - comes from the 

Bhagvata Purana where Manu first bears the name of Satyaravrata, ‘the lord of Dravida’ 37 
[south India]. In the usual way this Manu encounters a small fish, it grows big and he 
eventually throws it into the sea. It then reveals itself to him as none other than an 
incarnation of the god Vishnu, who warns him of the impending flood - which here, as 
the Mahabaratha also hints, acquires the cosmic and universal dimension of the great 
pralaya that brings each yuga, or age of the earth, to an end: 

On the seventh day after this the three worlds shall sink beneath the ocean of the dissolution. When the universe is 
dissolved in that ocean, a large ship, sent by me, shall come to thee. Taking with thee the plants and various seeds, 
surrounded by the Seven Sages ... thou shalt embark on the great ship and shalt move without alarm over the one 
dark ocean ,.. 38 

The fish incarnation of Vishnu then vanishes, promising to return at the right moment. 
Seven days later: ‘The sea, augmenting as the great clouds poured down their waters, 

was seen overflowing its shores and everywhere inundating the earth.’ 39 

Next, the ship of Vishnu appears and Manu and the Seven Sages embark in it - with 
Manu not failing in his duty to bring on board ‘the various kinds of plants’. 40 

Last but not least the great fish returns. Manu’s Ark is moored to its horn and towed 


safely across the flood and storm waves. 41 


Fleshing out the Vedic flood myth 

Is this ancient tradition entirely mythical and symbolic, or could it be anchored at some 
level in geological reality and historical time? 

My impression, perhaps quite wrong, is that the later texts of the tradition deliberately 
begin to fill in and clarify the details of the Manu narrative missing from the numerous 
‘customary’ allusions to him in the Vedas that seem to take a widespread and detailed 
knowledge of his story for granted. 

Perhaps this setting down in writing of the ancient tradition in its late days arose 
from a recognition that such widespread knowledge could no longer be relied upon and 
a fear that the oral compositions might eventually be completely lost. The result, at any 
rate, is that we can now guess exactly why the Rig speaks of Manu as the father of 
mankind. It is because in the ancient traditions of the Vedic peoples - so well known to 
all in the early days that no written elaboration was thought necessary - he was 
remembered as the survivor of the universal flood through whose virility and yogic 
powers the human race and all living beings were propagated again after the cataclysm. 
We now also have the following other pieces of information at our disposal: 

1. Manu made a special point of bringing something very precious and significant 
with him from the world before the flood - a cache of ‘plants and various seeds’ by 
means of which agriculture could be restored in post-diluvian times. 

2. Iso with Manu in the ship were the Seven Sages. 

3. The character of the flood was that ‘the sea ... was seen overflowing its shores and 
everywhere inundating the earth’. 

4. Borne up on the waters of the flood, and towed by a god, Manu’s survival ship 
travelled towards the north. 

5. Manu and the Sages made landfall on the slopes of the ‘Northern Mountain’ in 
Himavat - the Himalayas. 

6. They were to descend from the mountain ‘gradually’, and only as the flood 
subsided, making sure never to put themselves in a position where they could be 
‘washed away’. 

7. Manu was believed to have practised yoga. 

8. Manu was believed to have been, in antediluvian times, a king of the Dravidian 
people of south India. 


A ship in the Himalayas? 


Despite the formidable reputation of India’s oral tradition for preserving and 


transmitting extremely ancient information, I realize that some linguists and historians 
are likely to be sceptical of any attempt to connect what may be relatively late texts 
about Manu’s survival of the flood to his earlier more fleeting appearances as a 
‘household name’ in the Vedas. Nevertheless there is a strange, isolated passage in the 
Atharva Veda (AV), and another in the Rig itself, which add further merit to the view that 
the Vedic peoples at the dawn of their civilization were already fully conversant with all 
the details of the flood myth as they are given in the much later texts - and even used 
similar symbols, imagery and language. 

Of course, it is possible that the later compositions simply echo the older ones, but if 
that were so I would expect them not just to be similar but to be much more similar than 
they in fact are. In my opinion a sufficient degree of difference is evident in the 
terminology to make it quite unlikely that the Satpatha Brahmana, the Mahabaratha and 
the Bhagvata Parana, etc., are simply copying the AV and the Rig and much more likely 
that the earlier and the later written texts both descended separately from a common, 
extremely archaic, oral source. My view on this is buttressed by the fact that the 
relevant passages in the AV and the Rig are opaque and meaningless if left to stand 
alone but begin to make sense to any reader - or listener - who already has knowledge 
of the broader tradition of Manu and the flood. This creates a knotty logical paradox for 
those who wish to believe that the connected Manu/flood story is an invention of the 
later texts and was not in circulation at the time of the AV and the Rig. The knot can be 
untangled very simply, however, if we accept that the full connected Manu/flood story 
must indeed have been in circulation (perhaps even very wide circulation) in the earliest 
Vedic times but was simply not written down then and remained for much longer in the 
exclusive domain of the oral tradition. 

As far as I am aware, the peculiarity of the passage in the Atharva Veda was first 
commented on in the nineteenth century by Professor Albrecht Weber, a well-known 

German Indologist. 42 The passage can be found in Book 19, Hymn 39, Verse 8, and a 
modern translation has recently been provided by Sanskrit scholar David Frawley: ‘At 
the place of the ship’s descent at the top of the Himalayas, there resides the vision of 

immortality.’ 43 Griffith’s (1895) translation of the same verse reads as follows: ‘Where is 
the Sinking of the Ship, the summit of the Hill of Snow, there is the embodiment of life 

that dies not.’ 44 In a footnote Griffith then adds: 

The Sinking of the Ship: or the place where the ship sank or glided down; probably the Naubandhana of the later 

Epos [i.e. the Mahabaratha], the highest known peak of the Himalayas, to which in the great flood Manu fastened 

his ship. 

Weber’s 1882 comment on the passage had made essentially the same comparison of the 
Rig Veda and the Mahabaratha. In the latter, the peak of the Himalayas to which the ship 
was tied was afterwards called Naubandhana (meaning ‘the binding or tying of the 
ship’). Weber pointed out the curious imperfect similarity of this concept to the central 
idea of AV, 19, 39, 8, ‘where the term Navaprabhramsana or “Gliding down of the Ship” is 


used in connection with the summit of Himavat’. 46 

Since one would not normally expect to see a ship either moored to a mountain or 
gliding down one, I submit that the presence of such imagery in the AV without an 
accompanying explanation only makes sense if we assume that the singers of the Vedic 
hymns were already very well acquainted with a story of how a ship got itself into the 
Himalayas. There are also extremely good reasons to assume that the story in oral 
circulation then was an early version of the compositions that were much later written 
down in the Satpatha Brahmana, Mahabaratha, etc. 

The passage in the Rig Veda is, if anything, even more indicative of the long pre¬ 
existence of this story, with all its essential ingredients. In Book 2, Hymn 23, Verse 13 
there is suddenly a reference to ‘pure medicines ... those that are wholesomest and 

health-bestowing, those which our father Manu hath selected ,..’ 47 In the mid-nineteenth 
century the Vedic scholar Horace Haymann Wilson was the first to conclude that ‘this 
alludes to the vegetable seeds which Manu, according to the Mahabaratha, was directed 

to take with him into the vessel in which he was preserved at the time of the deluge’. 48 

Finally, to return to the Atharva Veda, there is one other unexplained matter raised in 
AV, 19,39,8. This concerns the association of immortality - ‘life that dies not’ - with the 
‘Place of the Ship’s Descent’ in the Himalayas (or the ‘Place of Manu’s Descent’, as the 
Satpatha Brahmana calls it). Once again, later texts provide the background story that is 
presupposed in the Vedas by telling us that as his reward for saving mankind and the 
seed of all living creatures the gods granted Manu insight into ‘the mystery of the 

soul’, 49 mastery over ‘all knowledge’ 50 and more than human powers with a lifetime of 

millions of years so that he might reign for ‘one manvantara ’. 5J A manvantara is a period 
of time which the Vedic sages (with uncharacteristic vagueness) describe as ‘about 71’ 

complete cycles of four yugas, equivalent to 64,800,000 years 53 - effective 
immortality. 

As readers may already have noticed, there is something familiar about this tradition 
that Manu was rewarded by the gods with immortality - or at any rate an extremely 
long life! The same gift was also bestowed (by a supposedly different group of gods) 
upon Zisudra, the Sumerian flood survivor whose travails are described in chapter 2: 

Life like a god they gave him; 

Breath eternal like a god they brought down for him, 

... Zisudra the king, 

The preserver of the name of vegetation and of the seed of mankind. 54 


Two times seven 

Another extraordinary similarity concerns the presence of Seven Sages in both the 
Sumerian and Vedic traditions. Most ancient societies, I concede, had their sages or seers 


or wise men - in India they were, and still are, called rishis. But it seems to me to be 
stretching coincidence too far to find a group specifically named the ‘Seven Sages’ 
prominently associated with two separate ancient cultures and to imagine that this did 
not come about through some sort of connection. 

In the case of Sumer the Seven Sages were depicted as amphibian, ‘fish-garbed’ beings 
who emerged from the sea in antediluvian times to teach wisdom to mankind. 

In the case of the Vedas the focus is not on the antediluvian period but on the flood 
itself and those antediluvians who are claimed to have survived it, namely Manu and 
the Seven Sages. 

What do we have so far? 

• Two groups of seven antediluvian sages, one in ancient Sumer, one in ancient 
India. 

• Both groups are associated with fish symbolism of some sort - the Seven Sages of 
Sumer are themselves half men, half fish, and the Vedic Seven Sages take refuge on 
Manu’s survival ship, which is towed by a gigantic fish through the raging waters of 
the deluge. 

• Both groups of sages perform an identical function - which is to preserve the gifts 
of civilization and bring them to mankind in their respective areas. 

• Both groups of sages set an example of asceticism and teach and promote the 
spiritual life. 

• Paradoxically, both groups of sages also play an absolutely fundamental and 
extremely distinctive earthly role as king-makers and as advisers to kings. 

Perhaps the similarities result from direct cultural exchange and transfer of ideas 
between ancient India and ancient Sumer? This option is at least worth considering, 
because we already know that the Indus-Sarasvati civilization-which has been proposed 
as the likely mother of the orphaned Vedas - and the civilizations of ancient 
Mesopotamia were contemporary and did have contact with one another. The problem 
as before, however, is that the similarities are not similar enough - or, to put it another 
way, that there are too many differences between the traditions - for them to have 
resulted from the direct transmission of the ‘Seven Sages’ idea from one society to the 
other. Besides, although the Indus-Sarasvati people and the Sumerians undoubtedly 
traded with and knew one another and have left proof of this, the archaeological record 
also shows that they simply did not exchange cultural ideas, themes and motifs - even at 
the most basic level such as jewellery design, let alone so fundamental a religious and 
historical concept as the Seven Sages. 

The only explanation left then is coincidence. 

Or the possibility that the two traditions are after all related - not directly, but 
through a shared legacy from a more ancient and perhaps even forgotten common 
ancestor ... 



An institution for saving the Vedas 


What is particularly striking about the Indian tradition is the way that the story of Manu 
and the Seven Sages is bound up with the ancient yuga theory of the cyclical destruction 
and rebirth of worlds. To this extent it is reminiscent of the story of the inundation of 
Dwarka; however, in Dwarka’s case we hear of only a single city being destroyed while 
in the case of the flood of Manu - a true pralaya - the waters overtake the whole earth 
and (improbably!) reach high enough to maroon a ship in the Himalayas. 

The Sanskrit texts make it clear that a cataclysm on this scale, though a relatively rare 
event, is expected to wash away all traces of the former world and that the slate will be 
wiped clean again for the new age of the earth to begin. In order to ensure that the 
Vedas can be repromulgated for future mankind after each pralaya the gods have 
therefore designed an institution to preserve them - the institution of the Seven Sages, a 

brotherhood of adepts possessed of unerring memories and supernatural powers, 55 
practitioners of yoga, performers of the ancient rituals and sacrifices, ascetics, spiritual 
visionaries, vigilant in the battle against evil, great teachers, knowledgeable beyond all 

imagining, who reincarnate from age to age 56 as the guides of civilization and the 
guardians of cosmic justice. 

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with first principles. 


The Seven Godlike Sages 

The earliest surviving written references to the Seven Sages are in the Rig Veda. But as 
with Manu it is apparent from the nature of the compositions that an initiated audience 
has been assumed and that no attempt has been made to render a full connected 

narrative (quotations from the Griffith translation); 5 

Our fathers then were these, the Seven Sages ... (4, 42, 8) 

They value One, only One, beyond the Seven Sages ... (10, 82, 2) 

Those Gods of old, Seven Sages who sat them down to their austere devotion ... (10, 109, 4) 

So by this knowledge men were raised to Sages, when ancient sacrifice sprang up, our Fathers. With the mind’s eye 
I think that I behold them who first performed this sacrificial worship. They who were versed in ritual and meter, 
in hymns and rules, were the Seven Godlike Sages. Viewing the path of those of old, the [later] sages have taken up 
the reins like chariot-drivers. (10, 130, 6 and 7) 

There are many additional accounts of individual rishis - and of their deeds, their 
knowledge, their powers, etc., but the four passages cited above contain the only direct 
and explicit references to the Seven Sages [Sapta Rishis) in the entire half-million-word 
corpus of the Rig Veda. The references are tantalizingly brief. Yet they are at the same 
time surprisingly rich in information - rich enough, I think, to allow us to make a few 


tentative deductions about Vedic beliefs on this subject: 

1. The Seven Sages were considered in some way as the ‘fathers’ of those rishis who 
controlled the rituals and recited the Vedas in later times. 

2. The Seven Sages were held in enormously high esteem, second only to ‘the One, the 
only One’ - the supreme divine power in the universe. 

3. The Seven Sages had formerly been mortal men and had been elevated, through 
their possession of ‘knowledge’, at the time ‘when ancient sacrifice sprang up’ - 
presumably at the dawn of the Vedic religion. 

4. The Seven Sages were in some way ‘Gods’ or at any rate ‘Godlike’. 

5. The Seven Sages performed austerities. 

6. The Seven Sages were ritual specialists who knew the ancient rules of metre and 
memorization that made it possible to preserve and transmit the ‘verses of 
knowledge’ for the benefit of future mankind. 

7. Later generations of sages who continued to perform the ritual functions and to 
memorize and recite the verses of knowledge - i.e. the Vedas - were (in the words 
of one nineteenth-century commentator) ‘only imitators of those who preceded 

them’. 58 It appears that one of the techniques used by subsequent generations to 
follow ‘the path of those of old’ may have involved yogic visualization (in the 
‘mind’s eye’) of the primal gathering of ‘the Seven Godlike Sages ... who first 
performed this sacrificial worship’. 


Makers of the Vedas 

As with the story of Manu and the flood, the overlapping story of the brotherhood of 
Seven Sages who survive the deluge in the Ark with Manu is a difficult jigsaw puzzle 
scattered across thousands of pages of ancient Sanskrit texts. The leading expert on the 
subject is Dr John Mitchiner, whose Ph.D. thesis at London University’s School of 
Oriental and African Studies was on the Sanskrit traditions of the Seven Sages and who 

later published the definitive book, Traditions of the Seven Rsis 59 (he uses the Sanskrit 
term throughout, being a stickler for detail, and not satisfied that the English words 

‘sage’ or ‘seer’ perfectly translate all the nuances of the Sanskrit rsi or rishi). 60 

Mitchiner points out that a fundamental connection exists in Indian thought between 
the Sages and the origins of the Vedas - so fundamental that an inquiry into the latter 
inevitably ends up being an inquiry into the former as well: 

The Seven Rsis are ... frequently described as being those who composed, are most conversant with and supremely 
knowledgeable in the Vedas - as makers of the Vedas, knowers of the Vedas and masters of the Vedas ... [They are] 
thought to be composers of Vedic hymns, and ... to come to the earth periodically in order to renew Vedic 
knowledge among men; they are further depicted as teaching the Vedas and other sacred works to various 


individuals and pupils, and as praising the learning, study and recitation of the Vedas. 61 

Despite the apparent clarity of the statement, the relationship between the Seven Sages 
and the composition of the Vedas is and always has been difficult to unravel. According 
to the doctrine of India’s yuga system as set out by the great nineteenth-century Hindu 
savant Bal Ganghadar Tilak: 

The Vedas were destroyed in the deluge, at the end of the last age. At the beginning of the present age the Sages, 
through tapas [meditation and yogic austerities], reproduced in substance, if not in form, the antediluvian Vedas, 
which they carried in their memory by the favour of god. 62 

So on the one hand we are to understand that it is the role of the Seven Sages to 
‘reproduce’ and repromulgate the ‘antediluvian’ Vedas (which themselves were believed 
to have been the result of an earlier such process of reproduction and repromulgation). 
On the other hand, and confusingly, there are other hymns in which the Sages are 

referred to as ‘making’, or ‘generating’ or ‘fashioning’ - i.e. composing - the Vedas. 63 Last 
but not least there are passages which leave no doubt that the hymns were believed 
originally, in some remote epoch, to have been ‘inspired’, ‘given’, or ‘generated’ by the 

gods and are thus, in essence, revealed knowledge. 6 


Secret communication 

During the long journeys both intellectual and physical that I have made in India I have 
learned to live with a certain level of ambiguity. Remember that the Hindu religion is 
the child of the Vedas and that in this religion what we think of as ‘reality’ (i.e. ‘the 
world of form’, the material universe) is held to be maya - an illusion or mass 
hallucination sustained by ignorance and dispersable only by the special knowledge, 

insight or gnosis that is concealed within the Vedas. 65 Since this knowledge was intended 
to be earned through individual study and personal asceticism, and yet was conveyed in 
publicly recited hymns, it was necessary for it to be coded in some way, or for it to 
make use of cues, images or ideas that might have one set of meanings for the laity and 
a totally different set of meanings and associations for those on the path to gnosis. That 
such a system of coding or secret communication was in use is confirmed by the Rig Veda 
itself in Book 1, Hymn 164, Verse 45 (Griffith translation): 

Speech hath been measured out in four divisions, the Brahmans who have understanding [gnosis] know them. 
Three keep in close concealment cause no motion; of speech men speak only the fourth division. 

Wilson translates the same passage this way: 

Four are the definite grades of speech: those Brahmans who are wise know them: three deposited in secret indicate 
no meaning; men speak the fourth grade of speech. 6 


The new and the old 


There are enough similar hints 1 scattered here and there throughout the ancient 
Sanskrit texts to justify a cautious approach to the ambiguities about the Seven Sages 
and their role in either merely ‘reproducing’, or actually ‘composing’, Vedic hymns - 
while these hymns are at the same time understood to consist of revelations from the 
gods. 

Bal Gangadhar Tilak, who devoted his scholarly life to unravelling the Vedas and who 
approached the subject with an extremely lucid and open mind, suggests that there is a 
way to reconcile these seemingly conflicting utterances. This involves making a 
distinction 

between the expression, language, or form on the one hand and the contents, substance or subject matter of the 
hymns on the other; and to hold that while the expression was human, the subject matter was believed to be ancient 
or superhuman. There are numerous passages in the Rig Veda where the bards speak of ancient poets (purve 
rishayah), or ancient hymns (1.1.2; 6.44.13;.7.29.4; 8.40.12; 10.14.15, etc.] ... [or where a hymn is said to be] new 
[navyasi], yet the god or the deity to whom it is addressed is old [pratna) or ancient (6.22.7; 62.4; 10.91.13, etc.). 
This shows that the deities whose exploits were sung in the hymns were considered to be ancient deities. Nay, we 
have express passages where not only the deities but their exploits are said to be ancient, evidently meaning that the 
achievements spoken of in the hymns were traditional and not witnessed by the poet himself. 69 

The Rig Veda is therefore best understood as a multi-layered construct containing some 
extremely ancient information (which is either repeated verbatim, as handed down from 
antiquity, or in various ways spoken of, or referred to, in later compositions) and also a 
fair amount of much less ancient information associated, perhaps, with the various 
stages and locales of repromulgation and dissemination of the Vedas. Moreover, while 
linguists and historians can debate endlessly about the origins, authorship and antiquity 
of these amazing compositions and of the later bodies of texts that descend from them, 
the compositions themselves are absolutely clear on all these points. 


The Vedic palimpsests 

The Vedas describe themselves as being in essence primordial, having been revealed to 
mankind by the gods. After that initial revelation, when the Vedas entered human space 
and time, a mechanism had to be found to protect the path to gnosis enshrined within 
them from the vicissitudes of the material world - of which the greatest and most deadly 
of all is the pralaya, the cataclysm, that separates one age of the earth from the next. 
The function of the Seven Sages is to ensure that the Vedas are not lost during these 
periodic episodes of destruction; instead, they are to preserve the hymns in their 
memories, survive the flood, and repromulgate the entire corpus again to the new age of 
men. 

It is important to note, in the Vedas, and the later explanatory hymns as we know 


them today, that this was already understood to have happened many times before 70 - in 
other words these Vedas were not believed, even by those who recited them in antiquity, 
to be the first Vedas but rather a younger recension separated by countless aeons from 
the original, salvaged from the most recent pralaya by the Seven Sages in the Ark of 
Manu, brought to ‘the Place of the Ship’s Descent’ in the Himalayas, and from there 
repromulgated to the present race of men. Moreover, further study of the texts makes it 
perfectly clear that even these events are cast far in the past in the Vedic scenario - that 
the time of the flood, Manu and the Seven Sages was itself perceived as having occurred 
long, long ago by those who said they were the descendants of Manu and by those later 
sages who spoke of the Seven Sages as their ‘Fathers’. Tilak summarizes the issue in the 
following way: 

The Vedic Rishis were themselves conscious of the fact that the subject-matter of the hymns sung by them was 

ancient or antediluvian in character, though the expressions used were their own productions. 

The hymns are therefore ‘oral palimpsests’, each imposed on top of an earlier hymn 
which itself has been ‘reproduced’ from an earlier hymn, which was reproduced from an 
even earlier hymn - and so on, back into the night of prehistory. Often the older layers 
of the palimpsest show through in the younger compositions so that everything is 
jumbled - like archaeological strata that have been turned over with earth-moving 
machinery indiscriminately mixing older and more recent artefacts. 

As we will see in a later chapter, progress has been made in separating the truly 
ancient from the more recent information tangled up in the Vedic hymns - and the 
results have been surprising. 

Meanwhile, in summary, it is at least clear that the essential task of the Seven Sages, 
whose own story is set in the remotest antiquity, was that having learned the Vedas 
from the Sages of an even earlier age they should survive the cataclysm and go forth at 

the beginning of the new age 2 to ‘repromulgate the knowledge inherited by them, as a 
sacred trust, from their forefathers’. : According to the Matsya Parana: ‘What the Seven 
Sages heard from the Sages of the preceding age, that they narrated in the next age.’ 4 


Connections hidden in the stars? 

There are repeated hints in the Sanskrit texts concerning something that sounds very 
much like a lineage of Sages - or perhaps a monastic order or a cult known as ‘the Seven 
Sages’ which was believed to have replenished its ranks in each generation. Indeed, in 
some of the texts detailed lists are provided of many groups of Seven Sages and of the 

past ages of the earth in which they lived. 5 The Mahabaratha makes explicit mention of 

‘the many Seven Sages’. 76 There are even different groups of Seven Sages assigned to 

different regions - particularly to northern and southern India 77 - which apparently 
were believed to have coexisted in different areas at the same time. Out of all this 


confusion, however, the names Visvamitra, Jamadagni, Bharadvaja, Gotama, Atri, 
Vasistha and Kasyapa are most frequently mentioned in the early literature as 

comprising the ‘main’ group of Seven Sages, 78 with Agastaya sometimes cited as an 

eighth. 9 But another group of seven ‘Great Sages’ (with Atri and Vasistha overlapping), 
is given at least equal prominence: Marici, Atri, Angiras, Pulastya, Pulaha, Kratu and 

Vasistha. 80 

It is this latter group that is assigned most often to southern India. But at the same 
time, curiously and strikingly, there are traditions that associate its members very firmly 
and vividly with seven stars in the northern sky - specifically the stars that form the 
prominent ‘Big Dipper’, or ‘Plough’, within the larger circumpolar constellation of the 

Great Bear. 81 The identification of this constellation with a bear is extremely ancient 

and found in many supposedly unconnected cultures. 82 This may shed light on an 
otherwise peculiar passage in the Satpatha Brahmana which informs us: ‘The Seven Rishis 

were in former times called the Rikshas [bears].’ 8d Mitchiner comments: 

In later times the term rksa came to be given a more general meaning, denoting ... any star ... This more general 
meaning is, however, in all probability derivative of the original and more specific meaning denoting the shining 
stars of the Bear or Ursa Major. 

The identification of the Seven Sages with this particular group of stars, so apparent in 
the Indian tradition, is peculiarly resonant of the well-known ancient Egyptian belief in 

the stellar destiny of the soul. 8 i cannot help but be reminded of the Pharaoh’s wish, 
repeated countless times in the Pyramid Texts, that if in this lifetime his spirit has been 
‘perfected’ then it should upon his death be transformed into a star in the sky. 86 

Two areas of the sky were favoured for stellar rebirth by the ancient Egyptians - the 
region of the constellation of Orion in the southern sky and the region of the 

circumpolar, never-setting, ‘Imperishable’ stars - particularly Kochab 87 in the Big Dipper 
- in the northern sky. Regarding a circumpolar destiny we read in Utterance 419 of the 
Pyramid Texts: ‘Arise ... raise yourself that you may travel in company with the spirits ... 

Cross the sky ... Make your abode among the imperishable stars ,..’ 88 Regarding a 
destiny in Orion we read in Utterance 466: ‘O King, you are this great star, the 

companion of Orion, who traverses the sky with Orion.’ 89 

I do therefore find it odd, to say the least, that ancient India’s Seven Sages are given a 
stellar ‘manifestation’ as the Big Dipper at the heart of the circumpolar region of the 
sky, just where the Egyptian Pharaohs wanted to go. Even odder, however, as Mitchiner 
reports, is that one of the Sages, Visvamitra, is said in both the Ramayana and the 
Mahabaratha to have transferred a king of ancient India named Trisanku to the sky in 

bodily form ‘where he now shines as the constellation of Orion’. 90 


Knowledge and balance 


Just like the Heliopolitan priesthood who oversaw the construction of the Great Pyramid 
of Egypt, what the Sanskrit texts suggest to me is the possibility that the ‘Seven Sages’ of 
ancient India were not a small group of remarkable individuals but an institution that 
persevered through time - perhaps for many thousands of years - that recruited new 
members in each generation, and that was dedicated to the preservation and 
transmission to the future of a body of spiritual knowledge from the remote past. 

The highly initiated Sages of India were understood to be ascetics who shunned 
material pleasures and material things. They are said to have worn simple clothes made 
out of natural products such as bark-cloth and to have smeared their bodies with ashes. 
They did not cut their hair but allowed it to grow long and matted. They were strict 

vegetarians who gathered fruits and roots to live on, praised abstention from meat 91 
and spent the greater part of their time in the snow-covered mountain fastnesses of the 
Himalayas. There it was said that they withdrew to perform the tapas - or yogic 

austerities - by means of which they were able to strengthen their spiritual power. 

But the ancient texts also tell us that the Sages did intervene and involve themselves 
extensively in mundane affairs - in particular as king-makers and as advisers to kings 

who influenced and shaped state policy. 93 Their role in this respect again parallels the 
role of the Heliopolitan priesthood of ancient Egypt, the king-makers of the Pyramid 

Age. 94 In both cases the purpose of secular involvement was the same: to guide, shape, 
form, and maintain indefinitely a society in perfect balance with itself and with the 
universe - a society constructed in accordance with what the ancient Egyptians called 
maat (earthly and cosmic harmony, truth, balance, the ‘right way’) and what the Hindus 

still call dharma, a concept that has exactly the same meanings. 95 

Thus we discover that the Seven Sages would from time to time take over as the rulers 
of kingdoms during an interregnum or in the prolonged absence of the legitimate 

ruler. 6 They would instruct rulers on the duties of kings. 97 They would also ‘obtain sons 
for kings’ (if necessary by impregnating the king’s wives themselves!) thus ensuring the 

longevity of royal dynasties 98 - since it was felt (in both ancient India and in ancient 
Egypt) that the presence of a king or pharaoh was an essential aspect of cosmic 
balance. When through some mishap there was no king, then it was the task of the 
Seven Sages to seek out and appoint a new one. In this regard the Mahabaratha tells 
how, after the destruction of the kingly caste, ‘the earth - being without kings - started 
to sink in distress, whereupon Kasyapa supported the earth and found new kings for 

her’. 99 

Amongst many other roles related to rulers and the secular order it is interesting to 
note that the Seven Sages also frequently cursed kings if they abused their powers (and 
it was a very dangerous thing - often fatal - to be cursed by a Sage). ‘In such contexts,’ 
observes Mitchiner: 


The Rsi comes to be seen not merely as an upholder or teacher of dharma who strives to maintain righteousness and 
proper conduct among men, but as the very embodiment of dharma itself, manifesting dharma in his words and 
deeds, and purging with his curse the adharmic actions of others. 100 


A spiritual basis to history? 

In conclusion, the more I learned about ‘the Seven Sages’ on my journey through the 
ancient texts and commentaries, the more they began to sound to me like a religious cult 
armed with powerful spiritual ideas, fired by yogic asceticism and the quest for gnosis, 
manipulating the development of ‘kingdoms’ in India from retreats in the Himalayas. 
And maybe not only kingdoms in India, but elsewhere in the archaic world as well? 

We’ve seen that the Sanskrit texts speak of two groups of Seven Sages, one for south 
India, one for north India - regions that are widely separated geographically. But 
beyond India it’s worth reminding ourselves again that it was Seven Sages - also 
associated with the dissemination of a system of knowledge - who served as the advisers 
to kings in ancient Sumer. Is it not a coincidence too far to discover that Seven Sages 
fulfilled exactly the same function in Egypt? According to the remarkable Edfu Building 

Texts, which I examined at length in an earlier book, 101 these Seven Sages and other 
gods came originally from an island, ‘the Homeland of the Primeval Ones’, said to have 
been destroyed suddenly in a great flood during which the majority of its ‘divine 

inhabitants’ were drowned. 1 Arriving in Egypt, those few who survived became ‘the 
Builder Gods, who fashioned in the primaeval time, the Lords of Light ... the Ghosts, the 

Ancestors ... who raised the seed for gods and men ...’ 103 

Most historians and archaeologists today more or less automatically project the 
‘materialist’ basis and structure of modern society (whether in its ‘capitalist’ or ‘socialist’ 
form) back on to societies of the remote past. This belief - that civilization is simply a 
function of economic forces - has in turn dictated research and excavation strategies in 
the field and profoundly influenced the way that scholars look at ancient texts such as 
the Vedas. In recent years, however, a thought-provoking counterview has begun to 
emerge. ‘Our political and economic interpretations of history’, argues the Sanskritist 
David Frawley, ‘cannot be true if enlightenment or spiritual realization is the real goal 

of humanity.’ 104 

Frawley draws attention to the ancient science of yoga in India - how ancient it may 
really be is one of the subjects we will consider in the later chapters-and points out: 

The modern view of the development of human civilization is far removed from the evolution of man according to 
the system of Yoga. The modern idea of civilization developing gradually through the growth of technology and 
scientific thinking contradicts the yogic point of view which rather sees culture as having been originally 
formulated and passed down by sages ... If the essence of civilization is technology then the modern view may be 
right, but if it is the culture of spirit, it is quite wrong. By my interpretation civilization was founded by yogis, 
seers and sages. 105 


Is it conceivable that the Indus-Sarasvati civilization of ancient India could have 
sprung up exactly in the way that the Vedic traditions tell us? Could it have been the 
outcome of a programme or even a ‘policy’ instituted by religious ascetics to protect a 
precious system of knowledge - knowledge from before the flood that was said to have 
reached India in the Ark of Manu, preserved in the memories of the Seven Sages? 



7 / Lost India 


When Varuna and I embark together and urge our boat into the midst of the ocean, we, when we ride o’er the ridges 
of the waters, will swing within that swing and there be happy. 

Rig Veda (8, 88, 3] 

The Vedic flood story, which is also the story of Father Manu and the Seven Sages, 
contains seemingly absurd elements: a gigantic fish towing the survival ship; no women 
on board, so Manu must create a wife and progeny by magical means; and a flood so 
huge and so high that the ship is carried to the Himalayas. There it is ultimately moored 
to the peak of the ‘northern mountain’, also referred to as ‘the mountain of snow’, in a 
legendary spot known in the Mahabaratha as Naubandhana (‘the Binding of the Ship’) 
and in the Atharva Veda as Navaprabhramsana, ‘the Place of the Ship’s Descent’ (or ‘the 
Place of the Sinking of the Ship’). 

Although it is true that the Himalayas are young mountains in geological terms - 
mountains that were indeed once under the sea and that are still rising as India pushes 
up against the mass of Asia - I know that I am on absolutely safe ground to state that 
no oceanic flood in the entire evolutionary history of mankind has ever reached into or 
even anywhere near these 9000 metre high snow-covered ranges. It is, in other words, a 
geophysical impossibility for Manu’s Ark to have been marooned in the Himalayas as 
the sacred texts of India claim. 

Yet it is also true that large areas of the Indian subcontinent did experience severe 
oceanic flooding at the end of the Ice Age - particularly between 15,000 years ago and 
8000 years ago. The floods of that epoch were global phenomena, as we saw in chapter 
3. In the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal, however, they were fuelled and amplified 
locally by the spectacular meltdown of the Himalayan ice-cap, which was much deeper 
and more extensive in the Ice Age than it is today. 

So, although I remained puzzled by the references to a ship in the Himalayas, I was 
not yet prepared to join the scholars in their opinion that all of this was complete 
fantasy with no historical value. It was time to get more detail on exactly what did 
happen to India in the crucial epoch of post-glacial flooding from 15,000 to 8000 years 
ago. 


Two anomalous sites ... and counting 

In chapter 1 I reported a baffling discovery that was made in the early 1990s by marine 
archaeologists working in the Bay of Bengal along the Tranquebar-Poompuhur coast of 
southern India near Nagapattinam. Although they did not at the time have sufficient 
funding to undertake more than a cursory examination, they were able to identify, and 
recommend for future investigation, a large, man-made ‘U-shaped structure’ flanked by 
a ‘semi-circular structure’ and an ‘oval-shaped’ mound. What is baffling about these 


submerged ruins, on which ‘a few courses of masonry’ can be made out under thick 
encrustations of marine growth, is the fact that they were found 5 kilometres off the 

present shoreline and at a depth of 23 metres. 1 

I had discussed the Poompuhur structure with S. R. Rao some months previously (see 
again chapter 1) and had for a long time regarded them as being of great potential 
significance. Nevertheless, local sea-levels in many parts of the world can (and do) rise 
and fall for all sorts of reasons independent of global sea-level rise - so, while tempting, 
I knew that it would be a mistake to jump to conclusions about the age of the 
Poompuhur ruins just because they are deeply submerged. This was why I put the 
problem to Dr Glenn Milne of Durham University, one of the world’s leading experts in 
the cutting-edge science of ‘inundation mapping’ - which uses a powerful computer 
program to calculate the complex variables and to produce accurate models of ancient 
shorelines at chosen dates in chosen locales. 





Dwarka 




•Po 

ompuhur 


Milne ran the programme for the coordinates of the Poompuhur site and e-mailed the 
result on 12 October 2000: 

areas currently at 23 m depth would have been submerged about 11,000 years before the present. This suggests that 
the structures you mention are 11 thousand years old or older! 

The possibility that the traces of a forgotten episode of global prehistory might indeed 
lie underwater off the shores of the Indian subcontinent suddenly looked a good deal 
more plausible. Previously I had focused on only one anomalous submerged site - in the 
north-west off the coast of Gujerat at Dwarka - and it was of uncertain date. But now I 
had confirmation of a second strong candidate located at the opposite end of India - in 
the south-east off the coast of Tamil Nadu - with a provisional dating to the end of the 
last Ice Age. 

The next step was to ask Milne and his colleagues in the Department of Geology at 
Durham to prepare detailed inundation maps of the whole coastline of greater India as 
far to the south as the Maidive islands - which straddle the equator - as far to the north 
and west as Pakistan’s Makran coast half-way to the Persian Gulf, and as far to the 
north and east as the Ganges delta at the top of the Bay of Bengal. 



Milne e-mailed the results of this new inquiry in mid-December 2000. 


India 21,300 years ago 

He had prepared four high-resolution maps. The earliest of these (see page 152) shows 
the subcontinent as it would have looked 21,300 years ago - around the time of the Last 
Glacial Maximum (LGM) when the world ocean had sunk to its lowest level. 

In that epoch India’s coastal plains were everywhere more extensive than they are 
today, in some areas they were much more extensive, and in two areas in particular - 
around Gujerat in the north-west and around Tamil Nadu in the south-east - they were 
so much more extensive as to make ancient India virtually unrecognizable. Is it by 
chance that it is in these two areas exactly-where marine encroachment during the Ice 
Age meltdown was more dramatic than anywhere else in the subcontinent - that 
anomalous underwater ruins have been found? 

At the LGM a strip of territory at least 100 kilometres wide that is now entirely 
submerged was exposed along almost the whole of the west coast of India - a linear 
distance of 2000 kilometres from the far south, beyond present Cape Comorin, to as far 
north as the Indus delta. However, at about latitude 15 degrees north this strip began to 
widen rapidly. Off modern Goa it was 120 kilometres wide, four degrees further north it 
was close to 500 kilometres wide and at 21 degrees north the Gulf of Cambay was a 
pleasant valley and the site on which the city of Surat now stands would have been as 
much as 700 kilometres from the sea. 

But as I studied Milne’s inundation map in December 2000 I was most struck by what 
it revealed about Gujerat’s distinctive Kathiarwar peninsula. Today surrounded on three 
sides by the sea (with the Gulf of Cambay to the south, the Gulf of Kutch to the north 
and the Arabian Sea to the west), it was completely landlocked 21,300 years ago. Even 
Dwarka with its mysterious submerged ruins - now poised on the extreme north-western 
‘horn’ of the peninsula - would then have been about 100 kilometres from the sea. 

All in all, I realized that what western India had lost to the global floods that followed 
the Last Glacial Maximum amounted to a vast coastal domain, nearly the same size and 
roughly the same shape as modern California and Baja California put together, with an 
area of close to half a million square kilometres. 

The second part of the map that was almost unrecognizable was in the south-east, 
where the underwater structures had been found off Poompuhur. 





Milne’s calculations demonstrated that the Poompuhur site would have been almost 
100 metres above sea-level at the Last Glacial Maximum, and would have stood towards 
the northern edge of a great peninsula roughly the same size and shape as the modern 
Koreas. Enclosing the Palk Strait, which was then a valley, and grafting a much- 
enlarged Sri Lanka firmly to the mainland, this lost Ice Age realm extended from a little 
below Dondra Head, at about 6 degrees north, as far as modern Pondicherry at around 
12 degrees north. Mahabalipuram, with its neglected legends of the Seven Pagodas and 
the flooded city of Bali, lies at 12.37 degrees north and would have been at least 50 
kilometres from the sea at the Last Glacial Maximum. Meanwhile, to the west of the Sri 
Lankan peninsula, forming the other side of the Gulf of Mannar - a large enclosed bay 
at the LGM - a snout of land extended into the Indian Ocean more than 150 kilometres 
beyond modern Cape Comorin. Finally, off-shore to the south-west, the ‘necklace’ of tiny 
atolls that make up the Maldives in the twenty-first century appeared as an imposing 
archipelago on Milne’s map. Greatly enlarged and increased in number because of the 
lowered sea-level, they included thousands of square kilometres of continuous 
landmasses at the Last Glacial Maximum that have long since completely vanished. 

So here again what the inundation map revealed was a substantial, integrated area - 
an entire sub-region of India - that had been above water 21,300 years ago and that is 
submerged today. 








16,400 years ago 


Milne’s second map did not look very different from the first, although it showed India 
almost 5000 years later - at 16,400 years ago. 

To my eye the south-eastern portion was to all extents and purposes identical in both 
maps. In the south the snout-shaped peninsula below Cape Comorin was slightly 
reduced in width, but still about the same length, and some of the larger Maldives had 
begun to break up. 

In the south-western sector of the mainland (northwards from the Cape) the 100 
kilometre wide strip of coastline up as far as latitude 15 degrees north was thinner - 
generally between 20 and 50 kilometres thinner - than it had been at the LGM. But 
beyond 15 degrees north, where the strip began to widen, the loss of land had been 
much less severe, indeed negligible. The Gulfs of Cambay and Kutch were still filled in, 
the Kathiarwar peninsula was still landlocked, and Dwarka was still about 100 
kilometres from the sea. 

In the light of what I’d learned so far about the chronology of the post-glacial 
cataclysms, the general lack of dramatic change during this period made perfect sense: 
16,400 years ago the meltdown of the last Ice Age had only just begun and the first of 
the three global superfloods identified by Professor John Shaw and discussed in chapter 
3 was still more than a thousand years away. 

The reader will remember the approximate chronology of those floods, which were 
actually prolonged episodes of flooding in all cases - 15,000-14,000 years ago; 12,000- 
11,000 years ago; and 8000-7000 years ago. 


10,600 years ago 

Glenn Milne’s third map showed India as it had looked 10,600 years ago, after the first 
two of the three episodes of flooding had done their work. In the far south the ‘snout’ 
that had protruded beneath Cape Comorin was now almost completely inundated, 
leaving only a lonely island anchored in the Indian Ocean about 80 kilometres off-shore. 

To the south-west the Maldives archipelago was much reduced, although the residual 
islands were larger than their modern counterparts. 

In the south-east, I was surprised to see Sri Lanka still attached to India albeit by a 
diminished land-bridge - as late as 10,600 years ago. On the mainland the coast of 
Tamil Nadu had in general been reduced almost to today’s levels. Five kilometres off¬ 
shore the Poompuhur structures had been inundated. At Mahabalipuram the coastal 
plain still extended 2 or 3 kilometres further into the Bay of Bengal 10,600 years ago 
than it does today - far enough, in theory, for the legendary city of Bali to have been 
built there as late as that date. 

On the south-west side of the Indian mainland the strip of coast running from Cape 
Comorin at 8 degrees north up as far as 15 degrees north now extended less than 5 


kilometres beyond today’s level. At about 17 degrees north it began to widen as before, 
but much more gradually. A very large part of the landmass directly below the Gulf of 
Cambay was now flooded by the sea and it was possible to make out the emergence of 
the modern shape of the Kathiarwar peninsula. Nevertheless the Gulf of Cambay was 
still entirely above water 10,600 years ago, so too was the Gulf of Kutch, and the 
present coastline of the peninsula was still surrounded by a healthy margin of dry land. 
Dwarka was at least 40 kilometres from the sea. Off-shore of Dwarka to the south-west 
there was an island about 50 kilometres in length - a remnant of the formerly much 
extended coastline in these parts. A second much larger island - 400 kilometres long and 
almost 100 kilometres wide - lay a little further to the south and extended down to well 
beyond modern Bombay. 


4800 years ago 

When I turned to study the final map of the four received from Milne it showed that sea- 
level was slightly higher 4800 years ago than it is today, marking the post-glacial high- 
stand of the sea. In the far south the Maidive islands had almost completely vanished 
and Sri Lanka was fully isolated from the mainland and in its modern form. On the 
mainland itself most parts of the coast were indistinguishable from those on a modern 
map, although the eminence on which Dwarka stands today would have been an island 
at that date. Much more significant marine incursions into areas that are now mostly 
dry land were shown into the Rann of Kuch and the Gulf of Cambay in the north-west 
and around Poompuhur-Tranquebar in the south-east. 

But this made sense. I remembered that in the Persian Gulf too the sea-level had been 
a metre or two higher around 5000 years ago - as a result of a worldwide episode of 

rapid, relatively short-term flooding known as the Flandrian transgression. 3 Presumably 
in India, as in the Gulf, the land had later been recovered thanks to the subsequent 
regression of sea-level to the modern value, combined with the local effects of silting. 
Indeed the salt-flats of the Rann remain susceptible to marine transgressions to this day 
and by 4800 years ago had become, temporarily, a large navigable extension of the Gulf 
of Kutch, scattered with numerous islands, that would not dry up for another thousand 
years. Into that gulf as far as Dholavira, the trade of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization was 
soon to be brought in great high-prowed ocean-going ships - the ships depicted on the 
terracotta seals of the mid-third millennium bc, the ships that also sailed further south, 
through the extended Gulf of Cambay, to the now landlocked port of Lothal. 

The amount of time that Glenn Milne was able to spend making inundation maps for 
me was strictly limited, but there was a period within the range of 21,300 to 4800 years 
ago that I particularly wanted him to do some more modelling on. I already knew by 
comparing his map for 21,300 years ago with his map for 10,600 years ago what lands 
had been surrendered to the sea during the first two global floods (15,000-14,000 years 
ago and 12,000-11,000 years ago). Now I wanted more fine detail on what had 


happened between 8000 and 7000 years ago, when the third episode of global 
superfloods had been unleashed. Just to be on the safe side I asked Milne to give me a 
complete sequence of maps covering the period from 13,500 years ago down to the 
present. 


What if? 

India is so big that I sometimes find it difficult to conceive of it all at once. Now after 
my first session with the inundation maps it seemed to be dividing itself conveniently 
into the two great cultural, linguistic and geographical regions into which it has always 
divided itself - at least since the time of the Rig Veda - namely the Dravidian-speaking 
south and the Indo-European-speaking north. 

In both these areas there had been extensive post-glacial flooding, and I was 
determined to dive in both if I could. But the south was far from the Himalayas, with 
which the Vedas associate the escape of the Seven Sages and Manu from the flood, while 
the north-west coast around modern Gujerat was not only much closer but also had lost 
more land more rapidly than any other part of India. 

The conjunction begged an obvious speculation. What if by extraordinary bad luck 
some kind of civilization had been based in precisely this area, on land that had been 
inundated 11,000 or 8000 years ago at the end of the Ice Age? 

If so, then it was by no means inconceivable that the survivors might have fled to the 
Himalayas, pretty much as the Vedic traditions state. They could not have got there by 
boat, of course. But if a boat had played an essential part in their survival of the flood 
then it was easy to see how the whole adventure might have been dramatized and 
remembered in later times as a boat journey. 

I could think of several good arguments against this scenario. In no particular order: 
(1) What right had I to assume that there had been any civilization at all, anywhere, 
11,000 or 8000 years ago? (2) Even in the unlikely event that a culture that was a little 
out of the ordinary had existed at that time, and had so far escaped discovery by 
archaeologists, why should it have chosen to concentrate itself in the very part of India 
that would suffer the most extensive post-glacial inundations - when there were so 
many other parts of India to choose from? (3) Even if both the prior improbabilities are 
granted and we accept that a civilization was there and was flooded, why did its 
survivors retreat all the way to the Himalayas? There was perfectly safe land in 
between that would have been much more congenial for settlement and for agriculture 
(presumably an important priority to Manu, who made such a point of ‘saving the name 
of vegetation’ and of bringing with him ‘all the seeds which have been described of 

old’). 4 

Yet history is full of examples of improbable things that have happened. It was 
thought improbable in the nineteenth century that a European army could ever be 
defeated in battle by an African army - until the Abyssinians routed the Italians at 


Adowa in 1896. It was thought improbable that the Titanic would sink on her maiden 
voyage, but she did. The residents of Pompeii obviously thought it was improbable that 
their city would be smothered by an eruption of Vesuvius, but it was. 

So let’s just ask the question and be damned: what if a prehistoric people, with more 
sophisticated spiritual ideas and a more developed culture than is known to have existed 
elsewhere in India at this time, had evolved on the California-sized coastal domain 
between Goa and the Indus delta before it was inundated at the end of the Ice Age? 
What would have happened to that culture when the deluge came? What sort of story 
might its survivors have told? And-the heart of the matter really - could it be that story 
that is expressed in the Vedas? 


The hypothesis that no one has tested 

Even in the twenty-first century, long after it supposedly relinquished its grip, the dead 
hand of the ‘Aryan invasion of India’ theory still moulds our perceptions of the Vedas. 
The assumption that there ever was such a thing as an invasion, or even a distinct 
ethnic group called the Aryas, may have been abandoned, but we’ve seen in previous 
chapters how scholars have retained the closely related assumption (albeit within a 
much wider time-scale) of an overland migration of semi-nomadic or transhumant tribes 
towards India from somewhere in the general direction of Europe. 

Underlying this assumption are other assumptions about the state of development of 
the migrants (in the early days of ‘the transition to agriculture’); about the kind of land 
that they might have inhabited before coming to India (plains, valleys, mountains); and 
about the various ‘environmental challenges’ (desertification, drastic changes in rainfall 
and temperature regimes, etc.) or ‘economic pressures’ (overpopulation, competition for 
scarce resources) that might have compelled them to migrate in the first place. 

Because assumptions are free and everybody is entitled to one, the quest for the ‘Indo- 
European homeland’ has become something of a scholarly equivalent of the quest for 
Atlantis. By various highly ranked authorities at various times it has been placed as far 
afield as the North Pole, Scandinavia, central Europe, southern Russia, central Asia and 

eastern Anatolia. 5 The suggestion that it might have been within India itself has only 
very rarely been made and then not by European scholars. Indeed in a survey of 
‘Recently proposed homelands of the original Indo-Europeans’ the Sanskritist David 
Frawley, along with historian of religion George Feuerstein and Professor Subash Kak of 
Louisiana State University, found that only one out of ten of the homelands that had 
been proposed was in India (and that by an Indian academic) while the other nine were 

all set much further to the north and west.’ 6 

Never, so far as I am aware, has a reputable scholar - Indian or otherwise - ever 
suggested a Vedic homeland located not only within India but also exclusively on the 
subcontinent’s coastal margins inundated at the end of the Ice Age. Nor for that matter 
do I know of any reputable scholar who has ever considered oceanic flooding in any 


shape or form amongst the ‘environmental’ challenges that might have compelled a 
migration of the ‘proto-agricultural’ Vedic peoples out of their ‘homeland’ (wherever 
that was) and into a wider theatre. 

This seems like an oversight, since the origins of settled agriculture and ‘civilization’ 
in India - indeed of the very urban lineage that culminated millennia later in the Indus- 
Sarasvati civilization itself - are now known by scholars to go back at least as far as 
#500 years before the present That is the approximate date - 6500 bc - of the first 
habitation strata at the extraordinary prehistoric town of Mehrgarh in Pakistan’s Bolan 

pass, 7 an archaeological site of great mystery, as we shall see. It is also an early enough 
date to lie firmly within the time-frame of the three episodes of global superfloods at the 
end of the last Ice Age. 


A maritime culture ? 

What sort of ancient culture would have chosen to locate itself exclusively in a region so 
close to the sea that the recurrent cycles of post-glacial floods might have seriously 
endangered it? 

In my opinion only a maritime, sea-going culture - indeed a culture that was 
dependent on the sea - fits the bill. Moreover, there can be no objection in principle to 
the existence of such a culture in India 8000 or even 15,000 years ago - since scholars 
accept that early humans may well have been seafarers as much as 40,000 years ago 
and that by 10,000 years ago lengthy oceanic journeys and difficult navigational feats 
were being accomplished by supposedly ‘Stone Age’ peoples in many different parts of 

the world. 8 

Yet the assumption continues to be that the founders of the Vedic religion - the 
forefathers of those who sang the Vedic hymns that have come down to us - were 
hunter-gatherers or nomads or farmers who only reached India after a long overland 
journey (itself thought to have been motivated by the demand for more land). Most 
Western Indologists studying the Rig Veda have therefore never seen the need to analyse 
the many references that its ancient hymns contain to ‘seas’ and ‘oceans’. Indeed, only 
David Frawley, who is far from the mainstream but whose knowledge of the Vedas 
cannot be faulted, has attempted a serious investigation of this problem: 

The modern, generally Western idea is that the Rig Veda is the product of a nomadic people invading India from the 
northwest, who, therefore, could not have known anything of the sea ... However this idea does not come from the 
Veda itself. It is a preconception used to interpret it. We can only discountenance the many references to the ocean 
in the Rig Veda by redefining the regular Sanskrit terms for ocean presented in it to have meant nothing more than 
any large body of water, river or lake. If we take them as they appear ... they fairly clearly show a maritime 
culture. 

Frawley argues that although forests and deserts are also mentioned in the Vedas, 
familiarity with these does not prove non-familiarity with the ocean: 


The scope of Vedic geography is quite large, with mountains, plains, rivers and seas. This allowed scholars to focus 
on one side of it and become caught up in that one aspect. Yet the oceanic symbolism appears to be the most 
common. 

So much so, Frawley points out, that Ralph Griffith, the translator of the Vedas - who 
did not accept that the Vedic peoples had any experience of oceans - was compelled 
almost 100 times to translate various Vedic terms as ‘ocean’ or ‘sea’, because this is 

exactly what those terms mean and no alternative translation is possible. 11 Other more 
ambiguous maritime references, in Frawley’s view, were mistranslated or treated simply 
as metaphors. And while he admits that the word ‘ocean’ in the Vedas is sometimes used 
as a metaphor (the ‘ocean of heaven’ for example), he argues persuasively that 

such images do not reflect a lack of contact with the earthly ocean ... They show great intimacy with the sea, not 
just as a practical fact but as a poetic image impressed on them by life in proximity to it. 12 

Nor are the maritime images in the Vedas confined to seas and oceans. They also include 
descriptions of sailing, of ships and of ship-borne trade. According to Professor S. P. 
Gupta: 

There are ... references to sea, i.e. samudra, and traders, i.e. panis, engaged in seaborne trade; navah, samudiiah, sata- 
aritia, etc. are such terms which clearly indicate it. Even piracy is mentioned. Attack by unscrupulous people on 
boats laden with goods in order to capture them finds clear mention in terms like duseva, tamovridha . 1 


If you listen to the Vedas you can hear the ocean 

Scholars have long regarded it as legitimate to make firm deducations about the biblical 
world - its economy, its history, its environment, its sense of geography, its social 

organization, etc. - by studying the Old Testament. 1 " When the same approach is 
applied open-mindedly to the Rig Veda, you can hear the ocean: 

All sacred songs have magnified Indra, expansive as the sea. (1, 11, 1) 

He [the god Varuna] knows the path of birds that fly through heaven, and ... of the 
sea, He knows the ships that are thereon ... (1, 25, 7) 

Like as a watery ocean so doth he [Indra] receive the rivers spread on all sides in their ample width ... (1, 55, 2) 

The Seven mighty Rivers seek the ocean. (1, 71, 7) 

O thou whose face looks every way, bear us past foes as in a ship ... As in a ship convey thou us for our advantage 
o’er the flood. (1, 97, 7-8) 

Come in the ship of these our hymns to bear you to the hither shore. (1, 46, 7) 


Yea Asvins [two ‘divine intermediaries’ or ‘guardian angels’ frequently referred to in the Vedas], as a dead man 


leaves his riches, Tugra left Bhujyu in the cloud of waters ... Ye brought him back in animated vessels ... Bhujyu ye 
bore ... to the sea’s farther shore, the strand of ocean ... Ye wrought that hero exploit in the ocean which giveth no 
support, or hold, or station, what time ye carried Bhyjyu to his dwelling borne in a ship with hundred oars, O 
Asvins. (1,116, 3-5) 

Ye ever-youthful Ones ... ye brought back Bhujyu from the sea of billows ... uninjured through the ocean ... (1, 
118, 14-15) 

O Asvins ... Ye made for Tugra’s son [Bhujyu], amid the water floods, that animated ship with wings [sails?] to fly 
withal, whereon ... ye brought him forth. And fled with easy flight from out the mighty surge. Four ships, most 
welcome in the midst of ocean, urged by the Asvins, saved the son of Tugra, him who was cast down headlong in 
the waters ...(1, 182, 5-6) 

O Maruts [sky and storm gods], from the Ocean ye uplift the rain, and fraught with vaporous moisture pour the 
torrents down. (5, 55, 5) 

Earth shakes and reels in terror at their [the Maruts’] onward rush, like a full ship which, quivering, lets the water 
in. (5, 59, 2) 

May Aja-Ekapad, the God, be gracious, gracious the Dragon of the Deep, and Ocean ...(7, 36, 13) 

Let not the sinful tyranny of any fiercely-hating foe smite us as billows smite a ship. (8, 64, 9) 

As rivers swell the ocean, so, Hero, our prayers increase thy might. (8, 88, 8) 

Ye furtherers of holy Law, transport us safe o’er many woes as over water-floods in ships. (8, 72, 3) 

When Varuna and I embark together and urge our boat into the midst of the ocean, we, when we ride o’er the ridges 
of the waters, will swing within that swing and there be happy. (8, 88, 3) 

In both the oceans hath his home, in eastern and in western seas. (10, 136, 5) 

Well knoweth Savitar [the personification of the Sun as a life-giving force] where ocean, firmly fixt, o’erflowed its 
limit. (10, 149, 2) 

Although the Vedas are eloquent on their own behalf, the passages above (quoted 
from the Griffith translation and representative of many other passages not reproduced 
here) do seem to raise a number of queries. 

For example, as well as confirming a knowledge of the relationship between rivers 
and oceans - with references to rivers seeking the ocean, pouring into it, etc. - we are 
also presented with the concept of rivers filling up the ocean, quite a different matter. 
When was the last time that human beings are likely to have seen rivers literally filling 
up the ocean (rather than just flowing into it and making no difference to its level as 
they do today)? Could it have been the time when the ocean, previously thought to have 
been firmly fixed in its place, ‘o’erflowed its limit’ and when only those on board ships 
were safe from its floods? 



And what about the Maruts, the storm gods, who ‘from the Ocean ... uplift the rain, 
and fraught with vaporous moisture pour the torrents down’? Knowledge of the 
workings of our planet’s great ocean-evaporation-cloud-rainfall cycle is not something 
that we normally ascribe to proto-agricultural nomads who have never been near an 
ocean in their lives. But the idea should occur naturally to anyone who lives in sight of a 
coast - where, at times, the clouds do seem visibly to be drawing up moisture from the 

sea. 15 

Also amongst the quoted passages are references to the ‘eastern and the western seas’, 
and to ‘both the oceans’. These references suggest a rather widespread maritime 
experience (at the very least, presumably, of the Arabian Sea to the west of India and of 
the Bay of Bengal to the east). 

Then we must consider the question of all those references to ships - hardly a subject 
of great interest or relevance to landlubbers but something that we would naturally 
expect to encounter in the discourse of mariners. And what ships! Ships in which to ride 
out the ‘water-flood’ as we have seen ... ships so formidable and so secure that they are 
used as a metaphors for safety, security and protection ... ships, with great sails and 
banks of oars, that fly across the waves so fast they hardly seem to get wet ... ships that 
can brave the billows and pull off the spectacular rescue ‘from out the mighty surge’ of a 
man lost overboard and then return him safe to his dwelling on ‘the strand of ocean’. 

Last but not least, and again as we would expect with a maritime people, there is 
knowledge both of the dreads and dangers of the sea and of its joys and pleasures. Thus, 
on the one hand, there is the delightful hymn to Varuna which could only have been 
composed by someone completely at ease with the motions of the sea and the way that 
a sailing ship behaves as it skips the ridges of gentle waves or lies at anchor rocking on 
the swell. On the other hand, these ancient compositions also offer an insight into the 
awful predicament of the human lost alone in the ocean ‘which giveth no support, or 
hold, or station’. In a few simple words and images they allow us to know the fear and 
victimization felt by those on board a ship that is being mercilessly pummelled by storm 
waves ‘smiting’ it ‘like a fiercely-hating foe’. With the same minimal but effective 
description we learn of the ‘terror’ experienced by its sailors when an injured ship 
‘quivers’ and begins to ‘let the water in’. And then there are such creatures to appease as 
the ‘Dragon of the Deep’ - aquatic monsters that would be out of place in fields or 
mountains but seem quite at home in the fantasies and experiences of a maritime 
people. 

I therefore find much in the Rig Veda to recommend the hypothesis that its original 
composers must have lived close to the sea and been familiar with the ways of the sea 
over a long period of time. This, at the very least, improves the odds in favour of a 
possibility briefly raised in previous chapters - namely that the Vedas (a superb religious 
literature with no known parent) might in fact have been the work of the undeniably 
maritime Indus-Sarasvati civilization (which was long known to have possessed a script 
but apparently had no religious literature). 


In that case the mystery of the origins of the Vedas would converge with the mystery 
of the origins of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization - origins that are receding further and 
further back into the past with each new turn of the archaeologists’ spade at sites such 
as Mehrgarh and Nausharo in Baluchistan that are already confirmed to be more than 
8000 years old. 

I remind the reader again that 8000 years before the present is within the time-frame 
of the great post-glacial floods. 


Hidden treasures 

We’ve seen that the scholarly chronology really has no bearing, one way or another, on 
the ultimate age of the Rig Veda. Even the date of 1200 bc that is generally used turns 
out to be for codification only, with all concerned ready to admit that many of the 
actual compositions must be older - although exactly how much older nobody knows. 

It’s also obvious that the Rig is a composite work, recension after recension, layer 
upon layer, and that part of the difficulty of interpreting it probably comes from a 
jumbling of earlier with later material. Similarly, as Gregory Possehl argues, it looks like 
a work that underwent a long period of composition, ‘when new material was added 
and older verses were edited and changed’. Then at some point ‘this flexibility in 
composition stopped and the priests defined their text as immutable, not to be changed 
by one word or even one syllable, and the slightest mispronunciation or deviation from 

the canon was believed to be a sacrilege’. 16 

So in a sense what the Rig presents us with is a dynamic body of scripture and oral 
history that kept on changing and growing, retaining its dynamism - conceivably even 
for thousands of years - before being frozen in amber and then preserved eternally in its 
interrupted form for later study and reflection. 

I see no need to get into the argument about when, precisely, that ‘freezing in amber’ 
might have occurred, or join with the scholars in bickering about a few hundred years 
here or there. I’m much more interested in the possibility that layers of extremely 
ancient oral history and tradition could be concealed alongside the much more recent 
material that the Rig also undoubtedly contains. 


The case of the vanishing river 

There is a river, spoken of repeatedly in the Rig Veda, that vanished into the earth - 
though not from human memory - thousands of years ago and that was only revealed 
again by satellite imaging and remote-sensing technology in the latter half of the 
twentieth century. It is the Sarasvati - the very same ancient river which now gives its 
name to the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, because large numbers of ‘Harappan’ and ‘pre- 
Harappan’ archaeological sites, dating back at least to the fourth millennium bc, have 


been discovered close to its former course. The Sarasvati began to dry out towards the 
end of the third millennium bc and to all extents and purposes had ceased to flow by the 
early second millennium bc. Even now, however, notes Gregory Possehl, 

there is a river bed, kilometres wide in some places and heavily cultivated, that the people of Haryana refer to as 
‘Sarasvati’. During the monsoon, parts of this channel carry small amounts of water, most of which is quickly 
captured for irrigation. Thus the river that today’s people call Sarasvati is not entirely dead ,.. 17 

There is a bigger question to ask, however: when was it entirely alive? When, for 
example, was the Sarasvati alive enough to merit these descriptions of it in the Rig 
Veda? 

Sarasvati, the mighty flood ... 18 

Coming together, glorious, loudly roaring - Sarasvati, Mother of Floods ... with fair streams strongly flowing, full 
swelling with the volume of their water ... 19 

She with her might ... hath burst with strong waves the ridges of the hills ... Yea, this divine Sarasvati, terrible 
with her golden path, foe-slayer ... whose limitless unbroken flood, swift-moving with a rapid rush, comes onward 
with tempestuous roar ... Yea, she most dear amidst dear streams ... graciously inclined, Sarasvati hath earned our 

20 

praise. 

In the footnotes to his 1889 translation, long before the era of satellites and remote 
sensing, Griffith commented on the use of the word ‘she’ in the above verse and 
expressed a certain geographical puzzlement: 

She: Sarasvati as a river. The description given in the text can hardly apply to the small stream generally known 
under that name; and from this and other passages which will be noticed as they occur it seems probable that 
Sarasvati is also another name of Sindhu, or the Indus. 

Griffith did not for a moment consider the possibility that the Sarasvati of the Vedas 
might have been a much greater ‘stream’ in the distant past than it is today (thus 
justifying the Rig’s description), and even translated without comment another passage 
that negates his own hypothesis by speaking of both rivers in the same verse: 

Let the great Streams come hither with their mighty help, Sindhu [Indus], Sarasvati, and Sarayu with waves. Ye 
Goddess Floods, ye Mothers, animating all, promise us water rich in fatness and in balm ... 22 

Because the Rig is in fact clear on the matter, scholars have long since given up the 
attempt to brush off the anomalous descriptions of the Sarasvati by trying to pretend 
that the Indus was meant. Nor-because of the perfect conformity between the ancient 
descriptions of a massive Sarasvati and the latest scientific evidence of a formerly 
massive Sarasvati - does there seem to be much mileage in writing it all off as hyperbole 
or poetic licence. Thus Possehl is prepared to concede: 

The image created in the Rig Veda for the Sarasvati River is one of a powerful, full-flowing river, not easily 


reconciled with the literal meaning of the name ‘Chain of Pools’. The discrepancy cannot simply be dismissed; 
swept under the carpet. It is a good example of how difficult it can be to use the Rig Veda, and the Vedic texts 
generally, as historical sources. 

It could be that when the composers of the Vedas first came to the Sarasvati it was a river of great magnitude, and 
these recollections are what we read in their texts. But over time the stream was robbed of its headwaters and dried 
up, becoming a chain of pools. For whatever reason, the name was changed and Sarasvati is the name that was 
preserved in the texts; awkward to be sure, but probably not insurmountable. This carries an interesting 
chronological implication: the composers of the Rig Veda were in the Sarasvati region prior to the drying up of the 
river and this would be closer to 2000 bc than it is to 1000 bc, somewhat earlier than most of the conventional 

chronologies for the presence of Vedic Aryans in the Punjab. 

Possehl understates his case. The ‘chronological implications’ of Vedic Aryans in the 
Punjab by 2000 bc are much more than ‘interesting’. They are potentially devastating for 
the academic edifice of Indian literary history founded on a date for the Rig Veda of 
around 1200 bc - and thus for every assumption about Indian prehistory that has ever 
been based on such a date for the Rig. At the very least, if this is what the references to a 
full and powerful Sarasvati mean, then the possibility of a connection between the 
Indus-Sarasvati civilization and the Vedic religion must be greatly enhanced. 

But the plot thickens ... 


From mountain to ocean 

As well as presenting us with images of a powerful, fast-flowing, roaring river (that 
would seem to be have been historically accurate for the Sarasvati at any time up until 
the end of the third millennium bc) the Rig Veda tells us something else, very, very 
clearly, that at first sight does not appear to be historically accurate at all. It tells us 
that the Sarasvati known to the Vedic priests and sages ran unbroken from the 
mountains to the ocean: 

This stream Sarasvati with fostering current comes forth, our sure defence ... the flood flows on, surpassing in 
majesty and might all other waters. Pure in her course from the mountains to the ocean ... 24 

The problem, in a nutshell, is this: the satellite studies indicate that the last time the 
Sarasvati flowed into any ocean may have been more than 10,000 years ago - in other 
words during the final millennia of the post-glacial meltdown. In a paper in the 
specialist journal Remote Sensing, S. M. Ramaswamy, P. C. Bakliwal and R. P. Verma 
make the following observations about the satellite data from which they draw this very 
important conclusion about the ‘palaeo-Sarasvati’: 

The occurrence of well-developed tentacles of palaeo-channels in the vast Indian Desert [north-east of the Rann of 
Kutch] and the final arm of the palaeo-channel as the Ghaggar ... show that River Sarasvati flowed close to the 
Aravalli hill ranges [and] met the Arabian Sea in the Rann of Kutch. 


The exact epoch in which the Sarasvati stopped flowing ‘pure in her course’ to the 
Arabian Sea and began to lose her way instead in the thirsty sands of the Indian Desert 
is not yet known with any certainty. Nevertheless, Ramaswamy, Bakliwal and Verma 
are quite satisfied that it was not in the ‘Holocene’ (the most recent geological age) but 

in the Tate Pleistocene’ - about 12,000 years ago. 26 The same approximate date has also 
been suggested by Bhimal Ghose, Anil Kar and Zahrid Jussain in a study for the Central 

Arid Zone Research Institute, Jodhpur, and by Ghose et al. in the Geographical 

Journal B. P. Radhakrishna of the Geological Society of India similarly indicates the 
period between 8000 and 6000 bc as the time when melting ice-sheets in the Himalayas, 
accompanied by a great increase in precipitation, allowed ‘Sarasvati and all its 

tributaries [to flow] in full majestic splendour’. 2 If all these scientists are interpreting 
the data correctly, then it is only to follow Possehl’s own logic to observe that the 
combination of the remote-sensing evidence and the textual evidence carries an 
interesting chronological implication: the composers of the Rig Veda were in the 
Sarasvati region at a time when that river still ran all the way to the sea, and this would 
be closer to 8000 bc than it is to 1000 bc. 

It goes without saying that such a date is not just ‘somewhat earlier’ but dramatically, 
startlingly, inexplicably earlier than any of the conventional chronologies for the 
presence of Vedic Aryans in the Punjab. So has the modern science of remote sensing 
revealed one of the deeper layers of the Vedic palimpsest? Or is it just a fluke that what 
appears to be an accurate geographical account of the Sarasvati river as it last looked 
10,000 or even 12,000 years ago seems to have been preserved in the Rig2. 

Since leading mainstream scholars like Gregory Possehl have already all but accepted 
the heretical possibility that Vedic civilization was present in the Punjab by 2000 bc (on 
the basis of the colourful description of a full and turbulent Sarasvati) it seems invidious 
of them to ignore or sidestep the Rig’s equally colourful description of the Sarasvati 
flowing to the sea. However, this is exactly what Possehl does. Quoting the relevant 
passage (‘pure in her course from the mountains to the ocean’), he admits that ‘the Vedic 
pundits thought that the Sarasvati went to the sea’ but explicitly advises students to 

treat this observation ‘critically, not literally’ 30 - presumably because to take the 
observation literally would imply an ‘impossibly’ early date for Vedic civilization. 


Under Vedic skies 

There are other passages within the Rig - not to do with rivers at all - which also appear 
to contain material of very great antiquity. These particularly concern astronomical 
observations of various stars and groups of stars at set seasons - the spring and autumn 
equinoxes and the summer and winter solstices. Because of a phenomenon known as the 

precession of the equinoxes, the technical details of which need not detain us here, 31 the 
constellations seen at these seasons slowly and magisterially trade places, as though 


revolving on a great belt in the heavens, at the rate of one degree every seventy-two 

years with a full cycle of just under 26,000 years. 32 Thus, if an ancient text says ‘we saw 
the star such-and-such or the constellation such-and-such rising at dawn at midsummer’, 
then it is possible with modern astronomical formulae to calculate approximately when 
that observation must have been made. 

There are numerous statements of this sort about stars and the seasons in the Rig Veda 
which, if taken at face value, suggest that the Vedic sages made observations of the sky 
for thousands of years and from time to time added verses or hymns incorporating new 
astronomical data to the pre-existing compilation. The problem is that the range of 
dates, going back to the same epoch as the Sarasvati material, has always been thought 
of as too outlandish to be taken seriously by the majority of scholars. 

This is, however, not quite a uniform view. Two of the highly respected Vedic scholars 
of the late nineteenth century, Professor H. Jacobi and Bal Ganghadar Tilak, were in no 
doubt that very ancient celestial observations are embedded within the Rig. On the basis 
of astronomical references Jacobi dated most of the hymns to the epoch of 4500-2500 

Be. 33 And although Tilak’s more comprehensive study found the greatest concentrations 
of references pointing to approximately the same period, he noted that earlier dates 

were also flagged. 34 Tilak thought that the most prolific epoch of Vedic composition had 
been between 4000 and 2500 bc - the ‘Orion period’ as he called it - in which references 
are found ‘from the time that the vernal equinox was in the asterism of Ardra to the time 

when it receded to the asterism of the Khtikas [the Pleiades]’. 33 But he also identified an 
older sub-layer of Vedic hymns with what he called ‘the Aditi or the pre-Orion period’, 

stating: ‘we may roughly assign 6000-4000 bc as its limit’. 36 

More recently David Frawley has pointed to other references which may carry the Rig 
Veda’s astronomical testimony back even earlier than 6000 bc, indeed ‘possibly as early 

as 7000 bc when the [winter] solstice first entered [the constellation of] Ashwini’ 37 (i.e., 
when the winter solstice was at or very near the beginning of the constellation of 
Aries). 38 Frawley concludes: 

The Vedas look back to a time when the winter solstice, the Path of the Gods or northern course of the Sun, began 
near the beginning of the sign Aries ... This does not mean that the hymns which use such symbolism were all 
composed during this era ... It means that the Rig Veda looks back in its mythology to this era as determining much 
of the symbolism of its Gods and the order of its rituals ,.. 39 


The Era of the Seven Sages 

Why should the Rig look back in time towards such a distant epoch, roughly between 
7000 and 6000 bc, if it does not have some very real and significant connection with that 
epoch? 


Oddly enough, exactly the same question can be asked of a system of calendrical 

reckoning still in use in some remote highland parts of India today, notably Kashmir. 
Described at length in the Paranas, it is called, suggestively, ‘the Era of the Seven 

Rishis’. 41 Although it operates completely independently of the yuga system it does 
intersect with it at certain points and, indeed, it is this very Saptarishi calendar which 
provides the referents that pundits have used to calculate the onset of the Kali Yuga to a 
date of 3102 bc. 42 

To state a complicated matter briefly, the Saptarishi calendar envisages a series of 
revolving cycles, each of 2800 years duration (much shorter than those of the yuga 
system). And while the yuga system has no real beginning or end, the Saptarishi 
calendar has a definite start date - a very first ‘Era of the Seven Rishis’. This start date is 

6676 bc. 4 According to John Mitchiner’s detailed study: 

The complete cycle wherein occurs the start of the Kali Yuga will commence with Krittika in 3876 bc ... while the 
preceding complete cycle will commence with Krittika some 2800 years earlier, namely in 6676 bc ... and the 
following complete cycle will commence with Krittika in 1076 bc ... The date of 6676 bc was in some sense 
regarded as being a starting point for Indian chronology. 44 

Mitchiner points out that that there is historical corroboration for a seventh-millennium 
bc start-point for Indian chronology in the works of Greek and Roman authors. Notable 
examples are Solinus and Pliny (AD23-79), who said of the Indians that from the time of 
the founding-father of their civilization to the time of Alexander the Great: ‘they reckon 
the number of their kings to have been 154 and they reckon the time as 6451 years and 

3 months’. 45 Alexander entered the Punjab in 326 bc and left in the same year. The 
implication is that the ‘Father’ figure (associated with Bacchus in the Roman texts) ‘was 
thought to have reigned in India in 64511/4 + 326 = 6777 bc’. 46 
Since Pliny and Solinus drew on reports sent back by Rome’s ambassadors to India’s 

Maurya court, 47 their chronology is regarded as first-hand information and is thought to 
transmit an accurate representation of ancient Indian beliefs about the past. Mitchiner 
is therefore intrigued by the fact 

that the date of 6777 bc which is given ... by Pliny and Solinus is only a single century in advance of the date of 
6676 bc which is suggested in the Indian texts to represent the starting point of Indian chronology, as based upon 
the Era of the Seven Rsis. We may therefore conclude that such a date was indeed regarded - from at least the 4th 
century bc - as being a starting point of Indian chronology. 48 


Connections 

I already knew that it was the ancient function of Rishis - Sages, Seers - to sustain the 
institution of kingship on earth. It was to this end, and in order to preserve and 


repromulgate the Vedas, that the Seven Sages were said to have travelled to the 
Himalayas with Father Manu in the time of the great flood. 

Now I also knew that an Indian calendar system identified with the Seven Sages, with 
a father figure and with a line of kings, had a start date of around 6700 bc - a date that 
fell well within the time-frame of the greatest floods the earth has known in the past 
125,000 years. 

Last but not least, I could not forget that 6700 bc is extremely close to the date at 
which the first settlement of the remarkable site of Mehrgarh in Baluchistan took place - 
a site where the systematic planting and cultivation of cereals and vegetables, as well as 
systematic animal husbandry, was apparently introduced into India for the first time. 

Inevitably I began to wonder if all these things might not in some way be connected. 



8 / The Demon on the Mountain and the Rebirth of Civilization 


Why humans came to domesticate plants and animals at some particular point in history remains somewhat of a 
mystery. It seems to be a phenomenon that developed just after the opening of the Holocene in several regions of 
both the Old and New Worlds. Why it did not occur earlier is not known. 

Professor Gregory Possehl, University of Pennsylvania, 1999 

Geological record indicates that during Late Pleistocene glaciation, waters of the Himalaya were frozen and that in 
place of rivers there were only glaciers, masses of solid ice ... When the climate became warmer, the glaciers began 
to break up and the frozen water held by them surged forth in great floods, inundating the alluvial plain in front of 
the mountains ... No wonder the early inhabitants of the plains burst into song praising Lord Indra for breaking up 
the glaciers and releasing waters which flowed out in seven mighty channels [Sapta Sindhu). The analogy of a 
slowly-moving serpent (Ahi) for describing the Himalayan glacier is most appropriate ... With the hindsight we 
possess as geologists, we at once see that the phenomenon described in the Rig Veda was no idle fancy but a real 
natural event of great significance connected with the break-up of Himalayan glaciers and the release of pent-up 
waters in great floods. 

B. P. Radhakrishna, Geological Society of India, 1999 

In its study and interpretation of the past, archaeology depends heavily on material 
evidence produced at excavations. The dependence becomes total when the culture 
being investigated has left no documents or inscriptions to tell us about itself. 

The Indus-Sarasvati civilization was a literate culture, but the archaeological 
interpretation of it has been strictly limited to excavated material remains and has 
never been able to draw upon the civilization’s own texts. This is because all attempts to 
decipher the enigmatic ‘Harappan’ script have failed, and because (at least until very 
recently) the Sanskrit Vedas were regarded as the work of another, later culture and 
were assumed to have had nothing to do with the Indus-Sarasvati civilization. Well into 
the twentieth century, this approach simply meant that there was no Indus-Sarasvati 
civilization. It was not part of the archaeological picture of India’s past and was never 
even contemplated. It was, in other words, as ‘lost’ as Plato’s Atlantis until the material 
evidence that proved its existence began to surface when excavations were started at 
Harappa and Mohenjodaro in the 1920s. 

Many more characteristically ‘Harappan’ sites were discovered during the next half- 
century of excavations in Pakistan and India but, as luck would have it, none of these 
were significantly older than Harappa and Mohenjodaro themselves. For a long while, 
therefore, the prevailing view amongst scholars was that these great cities had sprung 
up suddenly, with none of the long-term local development, evolution and growth that 
would normally be expected to underlie such a huge leap forward into organized urban 
life. For some archaeologists this was proof that the Indus-Sarasvati civilization was an 
offshoot of what was assumed to be the much older civilization of Sumer in 
Mesopotamia. Others just took it as an enigma and preferred to get on with the more 
practical business of understanding the evidence in hand. 




The breakthrough came with the start of excavations at ‘the village farming 
community’ of Mehrgarh in Baluchistan in 1974. Now joined by Nausharo and a number 
of other equally ancient sites, its earliest settlement layers are dated to around 7000 bc. 
two things are particularly striking about Mehrgarh: (1) from the very beginning its 
people were efficient and productive farmers; and (2) invaluably for archaeology, the 
site remained continuously inhabited until as late as the first millennium bc. 

Moreover, many sites of intermediate age, between Mehrgarh in 7000 bc and Harappa 
around 2500 bc, have also subsequently been found in the ever-widening Indus-Sarasvati 
catchment area - and all of them are now regarded by archaeologists as the direct 
antecedents, represented at various stages of an entirely normal and reassuringly 
gradual process of evolutionary development, of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization itself. 

This is often lauded as an example of how archaeologists are open to new facts and at 
the same time as proof that if you dig deep enough and far enough afield you will 
sooner or later expose a lengthy phase of evolution behind any highly developed 
civilization. In other words, great cities with a mature and efficient agricultural base 
don’t spring out of nowhere, ever. They may seem to, for a while; but in the end they 
always turn out to have a background. 

Professor S. P. Gupta of the National Museum Institute in New Delhi provides a useful 
summary of current archaeological thinking on the origins of the Indus-Sarasvati 
civilization: 

It is common knowledge that the history of Indian civilization begins in the Neolithic cultures of the north-western 
hills and the piedmont regions dating back to the late eighth millennium bc at sites like Mehrgarh on the Bolan 
River in Baluchistan. Unfortunately ... Mehrgarh ... was not put to excavation [until] 1974 ... However, after the 
excavations conducted at Mehrgarh our entire perspective of the hill cultures of Baluchistan, hence about the 
beginning of the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization, has undergone a sea-change. 

We now no longer talk of Baluchistan either in terms of a ‘corridor’ through which Iranian or Turanian 1 cultures 
passed on their way to the Indus Valley and caused the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization, or in terms of a rugged 
mountainous region with ‘as many cultures as there are now hills’. Instead, we now see the hills and sub- 
mountainous regions of Baluchistan as the ‘nuclear zone’ which gave birth to a very long succession of cultures 








starting from the aceramic Neolithic, datable to the 8th millennium bc, to the beginning of the Indus-Sarasvati 
Civilization in the mid 4th millennium bc In other words, what was once thought ... to be a loose chain of 
autonomous Neolithic and Chalcolithic cultures inspired by Iranian cultures can now be seen as parts of well- 
integrated cultural systems operating on an interregional basis all along the sub-mountainous regions, skirted by the 
Kirthar and Suleiman mountains, and the basins of the Indus, Ravi, Chenab, Satluj and the Sarasvati along with their 
tributaries. It is this system which eventually gave birth to the Indus-Sarasvati Civilization in the plains of the 
Indus and the Sarasvati/ 


What archaeology knows 

So let’s be clear about the mainstream archaeological position today: 

1. The ‘nuclear zone’ out of which the Indus-Sarasvati civilization emerged was the 
‘submontane’ or ‘piedmont’ region in the foothills of the Hindu Kush, Karakoram 
and Himalayan mountain ranges. 

2. This ‘first stirring’ of what was ultimately to become the largest urban culture of the 
ancient world, took place around the end of the eighth millennium bc and the 
beginning of the seventh. 

3. The earliest surviving and most complete site so far found that bears witness to it is 
Mehrgarh in the Bolan pass, which dates to around 7000 bc. 

4. Since Mehrgarh, the story of the evolution and development of the Indus-Sarasvati 
civilization is well known, with close to 3000 sites excavated. It is therefore 
extremely unlikely that any more major surprises await archaeologists researching 
the 5000-year period from 7000 bc down to 2000 bc. 

I feel it is important to stress that all these points represent entirely reasonable 
deductions from the evidence now to hand and that the orthodox scholarly picture of the 
origins and development of civilization in India since the time of Mehrgarh is likely to 
be correct - not only in broad outline but also in most of its finer details. In the absence 
of texts there will certainly be some aspects of the process that have been misunderstood 
or not even recognized - particularly matters to do with religious or symbolic expression 
- but there is no doubt that the archaeologists (these days mostly indigenous teams from 
India and Pakistan) have done diligent and extensive work and that by and large they 
have got the chronology and the connections right. 


What archaeology doesn’t know 

The same cannot be said of the period before Mehrgarh, as the scrupulously honest 
Gregory Possehl informs us: 

Almost nothing is known of the time between the late Glacial Age at circa 15,000 bc and the beginnings of Mehrgarh 
at circa 7000 bc ... The first period at Mehrgarh has fully-developed domestic architecture based on mud brick ... So 


while Mehrgarh ... is undoubtedly an early village farming community, there is also a sense that the excavations 
there have not documented the beginnings of this tradition or the beginnings of food production and domestication 
in the region. It is certainly nothing like a terminal hunting-gathering site with the intensive collection of cereals, 
pulses and sophisticated hunting. These people were already farmers. 3 

Quite a mystery, in my view! 

Possehl explains the ‘sudden’ appearance of this strangely sophisticated village 
farming community at Mehrgarh as an artefact of incomplete excavations and is 
confident that ‘the beginnings of food production and domestication in the region’ will 

eventually be traced - within the region itself. 4 Also he relates the level of development 
that archaeologists have exposed in the first period of Mehrgarh, c.7000 bc, to that of so- 
called PPNB (‘Pre-Pottery Neolithic “B”’) sites in the Levant. The PPNB represents the 
period between 8600bc and 7000 bc, when farming economies first came to dominate the 
Levant and southeast Anatolia (though there is highly localized evidence of agriculture 

in the Levant a thousand years before that). 5 Possehl is careful, however, not to imply 
any causal connection or influence in one direction or the other and admits: 

Why humans came to domesticate plants and animals at some particular point in history remains somewhat of a 
mystery. It seems to be a phenomenon that developed just after the opening of the Holocene in several regions of 
both the Old and New Worlds. Why it did not occur earlier is not known. 6 

Why, in other words, did the shift to food production and domestication happen 
suddenly and specifically then - after 12,000 years ago (the date that geologists have set 
as the end of the ‘Pleistocene’ glacial age and the beginning of the modern ‘Holocene’) 
rather than at some other time? This is precisely the moment, Possehl observes, ‘near the 
beginning of the Holocene, following the retreat of the last great continental glaciers’ 
that the ‘origins of settled life in the northwestern sector of southern Asia can be 

documented’. 7 

We are entering here one of the truly great riddles of prehistory: not just why did 
humans begin to domesticate plants and animals at a particular moment in the Indian 
subcontinent, but why did they do so in the first place anywhere in the world - and when 
and where (if anywhere) did this process really begin? 

There have been many attempts to understand the driving forces behind the food- 

producing and domestication revolution in human history: 8 

Propinquity, overpopulation, cultural readiness, systems feedback, climatic change and stress, population pressure, 
even a kind of historical inevitability have all been offered, acting alone or in concert with other forces, to explain 
this revolution. 

By the mid-1990s the abrupt climate changes at the Pleistocene/Holocene boundary 
that accompanied the end of the Ice Age were becoming a focus of special interest to 

quite a number of researchers interested in the origins of agriculture. 10 McCorriston and 


Hole (1991) and Bar-Yoseph and Meadow (1995) were amongst many to argue that: 


The origins of agriculture must be viewed in the context of a fluctuating climatic regime that broadened and then 
constricted areas suitable for productive hunting and gathering and later for cultivation and pastoralism ... abrupt 
climate shifts are seen as triggers. 11 

The counter-argument to this position offered by Gregory Possehl in 1999 is 
persuasive and worth hearing in detail: 

Those who use the ‘short-term climatic trigger’ hypothesis are essentially proposing that ... when the climate 
reduced resources, there was only room for one response: food production with domestication. That may have been 
a possibility, but there must have been other conceivable reactions to such climatic stress: e.g. migration (probably 
only partial) to other environments, broadening the adaptation to include plants and animals not already part of the 
subsistence regime, population reduction, some combination or partial implementation of these solutions. 

The San !Kung bushmen seem to have lived through a three-year drought in Botswana and hardly noticed it. 
Neighbouring Bantu-speaking pastoralist-farmers lost 100,000 cattle, and food for 200,000 farmers and herders had 
to be brought in as relief. In fact, the hunter-gatherers are reported to have helped the Bantus who came into their 
area to gather. We learn from this that the human response to drought and natural adversity is difficult to predict. 
The hunting-gathering adaptation can be extraordinarily resilient and provide very deep, very reliable insulation 
against adversities of nature. 

We should not imagine that the relationship between humans and the natural world involves such 
unsophisticated responses as those proposed by the climatic and environmental stress models. The notion that early 
Holocene hunting and gathering populations ... were just fine until the weather turned bad and that this caused 
them to domesticate plants and animals is just too simple ... Moreover, placing the burden of the final shift to food 
production on a deteriorating climate relies on the notion that the people who ‘invented agriculture’ were under 
stress and impoverished. 12 


What the Vedic sages knew (1): flood survivors 

In summary, isn’t it much more likely that ‘the people who invented agriculture’ would 
have been part of a society with the means and time to undertake what scholars have 
described as ‘the leisurely process of domestication’, rather than people on the brink of 

starvation? 13 Such a scenario, at the very least, seems to offer an alternative 
explanation for why the inhabitants of Mehrgarh were already farmers when the first 
bricks were laid there 9000 years ago: either, as Possehl suggests, they evolved their 
food-producing skills in the submontane belt around the foothills of the Karakorams and 
the Himalayas earlier than 9000 years ago. In this case we must suppose, as he does, 
that the traces of this vital evolutionary phase - between sophisticated hunter-gathering 
on the one hand, and full-scale agriculture and livestock management on the other - still 
await discovery (despite the admittedly intense archaeological investigation of these 
areas during the past fifty years); or, they evolved their skills somewhere else, in the 
Levant or another place where archaeologists have not looked, and migrated into the 
submontane regions of north-west India from there. 


Oddly enough, it is the second possibility, not the first, that is favoured by the ancient 
traditions of India itself. We’ve seen how these explain that Manu and the Seven Sages 
retreated to the Himalayas from a place that was not the Himalayas at the time of a 
terrible oceanic flood, and that they brought with them from their antediluvian 
homeland not only the Vedas but also all the ‘seeds’ that would be necessary to re¬ 
establish permanent food-producing settlements. 

The sacred texts also tell us that Vedic society was guided by a brotherhood of these 
Seven Sages - Rishis, wise men - who oversaw its evolution, established the institution 
of kingship within it for the general benefit of mankind, and ensured that those kings 
ruled justly. The fundamental ethic taught by the sages was asceticism - which is indeed 
the eternal ethic of ancient India for as far back as the memory of man extends - and 
while recognizing the necessity of a society that could meet all the basic material needs 
of human beings, it is unlikely that the ‘economic policies’ of such sages would ever have 
encouraged overproduction or the growth of luxury. 

A relatively simple lifestyle, with few material preoccupations and a focus on 
spirituality and yogic self-discipline would be more along the lines of what would be 
expected - a lifestyle very much like that of Mehrgarh 9000 years ago at the end of the 
Ice Age. 


Mehrgarh’s story 

The Bolan pass connects the western side of the Indus valley with the highlands of 
Baluchistan and beyond. Mehrgarh nestles at the foot of the pass on the alluvial Kachi 
plains beside the Bolan river. It is a well-chosen spot: sheltered location; plenty of 
water; good for agriculture; and good as a transit point for any trade or travel that is 
going on between the mountains on one side and the lowlands and the Arabian Sea on 
the other. Mehrgarh is far enough from the coast - about 500 kilometres - to have been 
safe from oceanic inundation (still an issue 9000 years ago with one further major 
episode of global superfloods yet to come). Moreover, although rugged, Baluchistan is 
not high enough to have supported an ice-cap during the last glaciation. Other than 
occasional unavoidable flooding of the Bolan river, we may therefore speculate that 
Mehrgarh would have enjoyed a moderate climate threatened by no obvious 
environmental or geological hazards when it was founded around 9000 years ago. 

So it’s easy to see why those first inhabitants - who were already farmers and clearly 
knew a thing or two about agricultural land - chose to settle at Mehrgarh rather than 
somewhere else. What is not so clear is whether there was any special motive or purpose 
or plan or inspiration behind the settlement or whether it is just to be seen the way 
scholars usually portray it - i.e. as part of some general, haphazard ‘trend’ towards 
sedentarization and intensified food production in north-west India that had in some 
vague way been prompted by climate change. 

Mehrgarh is extensive, running north to south along the west bank of the Bolan river 



in a strip up to a kilometre wide and more than two kilometres long - although not all 
sectors were occupied at the same time. The Period 1 material is clustered towards the 
northern end of the site, where it is estimated to cover an area of approximately 3-4 
hectares. Of this only a very small proportion (75 square metres) has as yet been 

excavated. 14 

One of the several things about Mehrgarh that I find puzzling, given the generally 
high level of development and discipline shown by its people from the beginning, is that 
the first settlers either did not know how to make pottery, or for some inexplicable 
reason chose not to use it. At any rate no pottery has been found in the earliest 
occupation layer (Period 1A) dated to around 9000 years ago; it begins to show up in 

Period IB, about a thousand years later. 1 

This ‘aceramic’ phase suggests that Mehrgarh’s first inhabitants must have been 
relatively unsophisticated; however, other evidence - notably concerning their 
competence as builders - contradicts this view. From the outset, for example, they built 

with well-made mud bricks of regular size (33 x 14.5 x 7 centimetres) 16 and oriented 

certain structures to the cardinal directions. 1 Many of the structures are simple 
dwellings with relatively strong walls made out of two courses of bricks laid side by side 
and with floors on which the ancient impressions of reeds can sometimes still be made 
out. The average size of these dwellings is small, just 5 by 4 metres, and yet they are 

frequently subdivided into several small rooms: 18 



Plan of Compartmented buildings at Mehrgarh. Based on Rao (1991) 


Ovens and hearths ... were usually found in the corners of rooms and signs of their use can be seen as traces of 
smoke on the plastered walls. One circular oven was lined with bricks and had a dome [like the tandoor ovens of 



Pakistan and northern India today] which was traced in its collapsed condition. 19 

Some of the Mehrgarh structures bear a striking family resemblance to much later 
buildings of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization - notably the so-called ‘Granary’ of 
Mohenjodaro, which has numerous narrow, cell-like compartments and has been 

interpreted as a storage facility. 20 The same interpretation has been given by the French 
archaeological team to ‘Structure B’ at Mehrgarh, which measures: 

6.3 metres by 6.7 metres, is oriented north-south, and is made up of six rectangular rooms. Three rooms measure 
2.25 metres by 1.5 metres and the other three 3.3 metres by 1.5 metres. No doorways between rooms were found 
even though there are two, three or four preserved courses of bricks. The walls were made of two rows of bricks ... 
The floors of five of the rooms were covered with pebbles (three rooms were completely covered with them). 

There are traces of many other compartmented structures at Mehrgarh from several 
successive periods in the life of the town. Some of them are preserved up to a height of 
more than 15 courses of bricks and in none of them have doors or windows been found. 
The cell units are often no larger than 1 square metre and it is presumed that they must 

have been entered through their roofs. 



Diagram of cell units at Mehrgarh. Based on Quivron (1991). 


So, although they did not make pottery, the very first inhabitants of Mehrgarh did 
make a range of brick buildings - and these look like the work of people who knew 
what they were doing. The compartmented structures may not have been ‘granaries’ - 
there’s no definite evidence - but, whatever they were, they clearly had a function and 
were built according to some sort of protocol. Such a protocol must, logically, have 
antedated the foundation of Mehrgarh in order to feature in an already developed form 
in the oldest habitation layers there. 

The first people of Mehrgarh were accomplished farmers, from the beginning, as 
Gregory Possehl has pointed out. They grew domesticated wheat and barley, still two of 

the principal food grains of northern India today. 23 In their suite of crops they also 
included other carefully chosen domesticates: lentils, peas and chickpeas: 





















The pulses, annual legumes cultivated for their seed, are an especially interesting group of plants because they are 
able to fix atmospheric nitrogen in symbiosis with the bacterium Rhizobium found on their roots. They add 
nitrogen to the soil, rather than consume it, and if these plants are rotated and mixed with the food grains, higher 
yields are achieved through increased soil fertility. j4 

Because agricultural knowledge like this ought to take centuries, maybe millennia, to 
build up, Gregory Possehl is not alone amongst archaeologists in his conviction that 
Mehrgarh does not represent the beginnings of the food-producing tradition in north 
India but an already developed stage of it. 

There is also evidence that the domestication of wild species of goats, sheep and cattle 
was undertaken by Mehrgarh’s first settlers, with great success, as though this was 
something else that they already understood how to do from experience that they had 
acquired in another location. Moreover, they seem to have arrived at Mehrgarh with this 
animal-domestication programme already in mind and in the initial years supplemented 
their diet with hunting on the Kachi plains (gazelle, swamp-deer, blackbuck, wild pig, 
elephant, etc.) while the development of their domesticated herds was underway. ‘What 
we see at Mehrgarh,’ concludes Possehl, 

is a sequence of events that seems to document the local domestication of animals. The sheep, goats and cattle start 
out looking wild, and were manipulated ... Over time the potential domesticates came to look like domesticated 
animals (smaller, with the osteological hallmarks of domesticated beasts) ... The contribution of domestic or ‘pro¬ 
domestic’ stock to the faunal assemblages came to surpass that of other animals early in the aceramic. 25 

I note in passing that the food-production sequences that archaeologists have been 
able to piece together at Mehrgarh show a good level of fit with the Manu story - which, 
unlike the Noah story, says nothing about animals on the Ark, but which does tell us that 
the archetypal Indian flood survivor brought on board, ‘carefully preserved and 

assorted, all the seeds which have been described of old’. 26 

Other materials excavated at Mehrgarh add to our understanding of its first settlers: 
they used small amounts of copper ‘thought to be of the native variety, not smelted’; 
their primary tools, fashioned from flint, include sickle blades bearing the characteristic 
sheen imparted when such blades are used to harvest crops; they wove textiles; they 
made baskets, sometimes waterproofing them with bitumen; they fashioned awls, 
spatulas and needles from bone; they also possessed a well-developed bead-making 
industry producing tiny disc-shaped beads in black steatite, barrel-shaped beads in 

calcite and bangles of polished conch shell; : Dentalium shells - long, hollow tubes that 
form natural beads - have likewise been found in Mehrgarh. These shells are endemic to 

the Gulf of Cambay. 28 There is also evidence of contact with coastal areas ‘and long 
distance trade networks as attested by the presence of marine shells, lapis lazuli, and 

turquoise in even the earliest graves’. 29 

Mention of these earliest graves raises another mystery that surrounds the first 
inhabitants and founders of Mehrgarh. Unlike later occupants of the site, they buried 


their dead with great care and ceremony. The bodies were carefully arranged in a 
‘flexed’ or embryonic posture, oriented with the head towards the east and the feet 

towards the west, 30 surrounded by personal effects and sometimes by offerings of food 
and drink for sustenance on what was clearly believed to be some form of afterlife 

journey of the soul. 31 Such burials - 166 graves in total - began right at the start of 
aceramic Period 1A and were sustained over more than a thousand years down to Period 

11A before gradually being abandoned." A particularly interesting ‘side-wall’ grave 
from Period IB contained the remains of an adult male or female 

alongside a very eroded wall. At the feet were a polished stone axe, a large flint core, a piece of a red ochre lump, a 
bovine bone, and two fragments of a double-pointed bone tool, a third fragment of which lay in front of the thorax 
and provides evidence for the intentional breaking of the tool before burial. Also associated were two turquoise 
beads (as a belt) and other bovine bone fragments. 33 

Ritual burials of this nature, with more or less elaborate grave goods, were conducted 
again and again in the early years of Mehrgarh. The practice is firmly established at the 
beginning, with a number of distinct conventions in place concerning the style and 
orientation of the grave and the types of objects and ornaments interred with the 
deceased. All of this suggests a complex religious and funerary culture - one that must 
already have been in use by Mehrgarh’s first inhabitants when they established the site. 

But in use for how long? And where? Where did the mature religion with afterlife 
beliefs that we get a glimpse of at Mehrgarh 9000 years ago have its origins? 

Although most archaeologists consider the origins of Indian agriculture to lie either in 
the Near East or in the sub-Himalayan piedmont region, there is one discordant 
observation about the first settlers which raises doubt. Although the observation was 
published in 1983 in the peer-reviewed journal Current Anthropology, and although its 
validity has not been challenged by any of the archaeologists working at Mehrgarh, it 
seems that no scholar has yet got fully to grips with what it could mean. 

The observation, arising from research conducted by dental morphology specialist 
John Luckacs, concerns ‘the high frequency of shovel-shaped incisors among the 
inhabitants of Mehrgarh Period I. This is a distinctive feature of populations of eastern and 

southeastern Asia .’ 34 According to Luckacs, the teeth of the Period I inhabitants of 
Mehrgarh 

contrast strongly with the European dental complex [generally found in India and in the neighbourhood of 
Mehrgarh from antiquity] and share several dental features common with the Sundadont pattern ... The Neolithic 
people of Mehrgarh may represent the western margin of South-Southeast Asian phenotypic dental pattern known 
as Sundadont. 

Though passed off in a low-key manner, the implications of this discovery are actually 
quite extraordinary - since the way overland from south-east Asia to north-west India is 
very long indeed and since the Sundadont characteristics found at Mehrgarh have never 


been observed anywhere else in the subcontinent. 36 Moreover, south-east Asia’s 
extensive Sunda Shelf - the home of Sundadont teeth and a continent-sized landmass 
above water at the Last Glacial Maximum - was submerged in several rapid stages 
between 16,000 and 11,000 years ago. 

The implications seem obvious at first, i.e. that forced out of their original homes 
(where they had established agriculture, religion, etc.) by the flooding of the Sunda 
Shelf, the first settlers somehow sailed all the way from southeast Asia to the north-west 
coast of India then sailed up the Indus and then finally crossed overland to the foot of 
the Bolan pass, where they founded Mehrgarh. Yet the teeth don’t warrant such a large 
conclusion. They are not pure Sundadont but rather ‘share several dental features in 
common with the Sundadont pattern’ and are more likely to have come from some 
intermediate place - though where that might have been cannot be guessed from the 
dental evidence alone. 

Besides, if flooding is to be cited as the reason why settlers - hypothetically - would 
have left the Sunda Shelf and sailed to India, then why do we need to look so far afield 
when we have half a million square kilometres of good land to the north, south and east 
of Gujerat that was inundated during the same period? Aren’t hypothetical flood 
refugees much more likely to have reached Mehrgarh from there, less than a thousand 
kilometres away, than from distant Indonesia or Malaysia on the Sunda Shelf? 

At the very least, the similarities to the Sundadont pattern seen in the teeth of 
Mehrgarh’s Period I people do seem to rule out any possibility that they had migrated to 
Mehrgarh overland from the west. As Jonathan Kennoyer confirms: 

They do not have strong morphological relationships to known Neolithic populations of West Asia. On the contrary 
their dental morphology associates them with a distinctively Asian gene pool. 37 

The mystery of who exactly it was who founded Mehrgarh therefore remains unsolved 
to this day, and the whole issue has been somewhat neglected - perhaps because of its 
potential to cause controversy. Scholars also continue to have no idea as to what it was 
that brought the settlers to Mehrgarh in the first place, though they seem to have arrived 
with a definite plan and purpose in mind. Last but not least, we should not draw 
conclusions about the state of mental and intellectual development of the first 
inhabitants from the rather simple and austere nature of their homes, their tools and 
their lifestyle. This ‘archaeological assemblage’ is consistent with the orthodox historical 
model of how people at the threshold of sedentarized food production should have 

looked and behaved when they set up their first permanent settlements. But Mehrgarh 
is also consistent with another model - the model that is suggested in the Rig Veda of a 
society established by yogic sages to meet simple needs with great efficiency, but 
showing no interest in material luxuries or excesses that might lure humans away from 
the pursuit of spiritual enlightenment and the immortal destiny of the soul. 


Rising seas and melting ice-caps 


Mehrgarh Period I takes us back to about 9000 years ago, but the radiocarbon results 

are frequently confusing, 39 ‘the stratigraphy at the site is extremely complex’, 40 and 
because of the margins of inaccuracy that apply to any attempt to date sites as old as 
this one it is by no means inconceivable that Mehrgarh may in fact be closer to 10,000 

than to 9000 years old. 41 

I decided to find out more about what had been happening in the northwestern 
Himalayas in the millennia leading up to the foundation of Mehrgarh, during the 
catastrophic meltdown at the end of the last Ice Age. It was at this time, immediately 
following ‘the retreat of the last great continental glaciers’, as Possehl puts it, that the 
food-producing explosion began in north-west India. But strangely neither he nor any 
other major scholar looking at the revolutionary cultural developments of that epoch 
has considered the possibility that the melting glaciers and rising sea-levels were more 
than just symptoms of generalized climate change and might in some way have been 
directly connected to the introduction at Mehrgarh of a settled agricultural way of life 
that was apparently new to the subcontinent. 

We’ve already seen how dramatically India’s coasts were inundated after 15,000 years 
ago. But what about the ‘supply’ end of the rising sea-level equation? What about the 
ice-caps, in runaway meltdown as glaciers collapsed, that sent huge floods roaring down 
from the mountains to fill up the oceans? If there were cataclysmic outburst floods from 
glacial lakes in North America and in Europe, then why not in the Himalayas too? 


Double meanings 

The language of the Rig Veda, even after its passage from a spoken, oral tradition to a 
written Sankrit tradition, and after its more recent transformation from ancient Sanskrit 
into modern and often prosaic English, remains intensely mysterious - filled with 
symbols, metaphors and riddles that sometimes seem to have been designed to blur the 
borderline between image and reality, between the symbol and the thing symbolized. 

A small but possibly significant example of this concerns the use of certain Sanskrit 
words in the Manu story with what can only have been the deliberate intention of 
exploiting ambiguities and innuendoes in their meaning. This is surely the case, argues 
David Frawley, with the Vedic word for ‘boat’ - nau - which also means ‘word’ or 

‘Divine Word’, while the word for ‘thought’, dhi, also means ‘vessel’. 42 Such puns could 
offer a rational explanation for the improbable image of a ship marooned in the 
Himalayas that the Manu story leaves us with. For example, although the words used 
speak literally of a ship attached to the peak of a high snow-covered mountain, the 
relevant passages could very easily have been intended to suggest that the ‘word’ - the 
revealed ‘Divine Word’, i.e., the Vedas themselves - had been brought to the Himalayas 
for safekeeping in the memories of the Seven Sages. That would make sense of the 
caution supposedly given to the refugees by Vishnu that the ‘ship/word’ should not be 
allowed to descend from the mountains too fast lest the waters sweep it away. Perhaps 


the community of Sages that is hinted at in the texts decided to stay for a long time in 
retreat in the Himalayas, perhaps even for many generations, storing and preserving 
the seeds of already domesticated varieties of cereals and pulses that they had brought 
from their homeland until such a moment as they felt it was safe for the ‘Word’ once 
again to be promulgated amongst men. In this case we should read the term 
Naubandhana in the Mahabaratha (see chapter 6) not as so much as ‘the place of the 
binding of the ship’ but as ‘the place of the protection of the Word’. 

Another interesting area of ambiguity concerns the many shades of meaning that have 
been found in the name of the Sarasvati river. Possehl renders it ‘Chain of Pools’, 

Frawley reads it as ‘She who flows’. 43 Griffith’s authoritative translation, on the other 

hand, is ‘The Watery’. 44 

What therefore are we to make of one of the most ambiguous and symbolic ideas that 
the Vedas have to offer: the great myth known as ‘the Freeing of the Seven Rivers’ that 
seems to speak of a flood cataclysm in the Himalayas? 


What the Vedic sages knew (2): the meltdown in the Himalayas 

The Rig Veda conjures up a compelling image of a demon in the form of a great dragon, 
or serpent, that has wrapped itself around the ice-covered mountain ranges that hem in 
northern India and strangled seven great rivers. The name of the demon is sometimes 
Ahi but more often Vrtra and the story of how he is slain by the god Indra and of how 
the seven rivers are freed, is repeated again and again in the hymns of the Rig Veda: 

I will declare the manly deeds of Indra, the first that he achieved, the Thunder-wielder. He slew the Dragon, then 
disclosed the waters, and cleft the channels of the mountain torrents. He slew the Dragon lying on the mountain; his 
heavenly bolt of thunder Tvastr [the artificer of the gods] fashioned. Like lowing kine in rapid flow descending, the 
waters glided downward to the ocean ... Indra with his own great and deadly thunder smote into pieces Vrtra ... 
There he lies like a bank-bursting river, the waters taking courage flow above him. The Dragon lies beneath the feet 
of torrents which Vrtra with his greatness had encompassed ... Rolled in the midst of never-ceasing currents 
flowing without a rest for ever onward, the waters bear off Vrtra’s nameless body ... O Indra ... thou hast let loose 
to flow the Seven Rivers. (1, 32, 1-12) 

Indra hath hurled down the magician Vrtra who lay beleaguering the mighty river. Then both the heaven and earth 
trembled in terror at the strong Hero’s thunder when he bellowed. (2, 11, 9) 

Thou, slaying Ahi, settest free the river’s path. (2, 13, 5) 

Indra, whose hand wields thunder, rent piecemeal Ahi who barred up the waters, So that the quickening currents of 
the rivers flowed ... Indra, this Mighty One, the Dragon’s Slayer, sent forth the flood of waters to the ocean. (2, 19, 
2-3) 

Thou in thy vigour having slaughtered Vrtra didst free the floods arrested by the Dragon. Heaven trembled at the 
birth of thine effulgence; Earth trembled at the fear of thy displeasure. The steadfast mountains shook in agitation: 


the waters flowed and desert spots were flooded. (4, 17, 1-3) 


Thou slewest Ahi who besieged the waters ... the insatiate one, extended, hard to waken, who slumbered in 
perpetual sleep, O Indra. The Dragon stretched against the seven prone rivers, where no joint was, thou rentest with 
thy thunder. (4, 19, 2-3) 

Indra for man made waters flow together, slew Ahi and sent forth the Seven Rivers, and opened as it were 
obstructed fountains. (4, 28, 1) 

E’en now endures thine exploit of the Rivers, when, Indra, for their floods thou clavest passage. Like men who sit at 
meat the mountains settled. (6, 30, 3) 

Indra ... ye slew the flood-obstructing serpent Vrtra ... Heaven approved thine exploit. Ye urged to speed the 
currents of the rivers, and many seas have ye filled full with waters. (6, 72, 3) 

A common explanation that is offered for this myth, both by foreign scholars and by 
the Indian commentators, sees Vrtra as a symbol for large, dark rain-clouds which Indra 
bursts open with his thunderbolt. The rivers in this scenario are said to symbolize 

‘streams of rain’. 45 Thus Horace Wilson writes: 

the original purpose of the legend of Indra’s slaying of Vrtra ... is merely an allegorical narrative of the production 
of rain. Vrtra ... is nothing more than the accumulation of vapour condensed or figuratively shut up in, or 
obstructed by a cloud. Indra, with his thunderbolt, or atmospheric or electrical influence, divides the aggregated 
mass, and vent is given to the rain which then descends upon the earth. 4 

It is true that some descriptions of Vrtra in the Rig Veda do unambiguously depict the 
demon as a withholder of rain (‘the rain obstructor’, 1, 52, 6) and equally clearly 
associate his destruction with the onset of ‘floods of rain’ (1, 56, 5) - so any attempt to 
assess Vrtra’s character must take such descriptions into account. Nevertheless, I do not 
feel that Wilson’s elegant allegory satisfactorily explains certain key features of the 
myth outlined in the passages cited above: the constant references to the ‘freeing of the 
Seven Rivers’ (if ‘rivers’ are really ‘streams of rain’, then why are there just seven of 
them?); the description of pieces of Vrtra’s body being carried away in the waters, 
‘rolled in the midst of never-ceasing currents’ (surely more consistent with what is seen 
during powerful floods than it is with rainstorms?); the clear statement that the released 
waters cut channels in the mountains and descend in rapid flow to the oceans; the way 
that the flooding of ‘desert spots’ is connected to this downrush of waters from the 
mountains; and most of all the way that the released waters are said to flow ‘above’ the 
Dragon Vrtra as he lies abased ‘beneath the feet of torrents’ (whereas, if he were merely 
a rain-cloud dispersed by Indra’s thunderbolt, one would have expected what was left of 
his ‘body’ - the remaining wisps of cloud? - to have been above the freed waters, not 
beneath them). 

Uncomfortable with Wilson’s pure symbolism for precisely these reasons, other 
scholars have offered a more literal interpretation of the myth in which the rivers are 


the seven physical rivers of ancient north-west India - an area that is indeed referred to 

as early as the Rig Veda as the ‘Land of the Seven Rivers’. 47 The rivers concerned are 

generally presumed to be the Indus, the Sarasvati and the five rivers of the Punjab 48 

which ‘often entirely dried up in the summer’. 4 According to this variant, Indra is ‘the 
god of the rainy season’ who calls the rivers back to life and Vrtra is the demon of 

summer drought. 50 

But there are problems here too. Most significantly, Indra’s ‘exploit of the Rivers’ is 
not portrayed in the Rig Veda as an annually or seasonally recurring event but as a one- 
off, unrepeatable event of awe-inspiring proportions that took place a long time ago (so 
long ago it is described as Indra’s first manly deed and the poet remarks with wonder 
that ‘e’en now’ its fame endures). When I read the accounts in the Rig I find it impossible 
to convince myself that the sages of remote antiquity who composed these hymns were 
talking about something that happened every year when they described this epic conflict 
that took place in the snow-covered northern mountain ranges. On the contrary, the 
texts leave no doubt that when Vrtra was slain he was slain for ever: ‘When Indra and 
the Dragon strove in battle, Maghavan [“Lord of Bounty”, an epithet for Indra] gained 
the victory for ever’ (1, 32, 13). 

So I think there’s room for a third scenario - one that the scholars haven’t looked at. 


Ice dragon 

Suppose that Vrtra symbolizes glaciation - more specifically the Himalayan ice-cap, 
which would have been greatly extended at the Last Glacial Maximum and might indeed 
at times have choked off the headwaters of the Seven Rivers. If so, then it can be seen 
that the myth is quite consistent with the tumultuous collapse of ice-caps all around the 
world at the end of the Ice Age - and with what one might have expected to witness in 
the Himalayan and Karakoram mountains at this time: 

• Before the heroic intervention of Indra, the demon Ahi in his lair high in the 
mountains is explicitly described as being ‘extended’ and ‘stretched against the 
seven prone rivers’ and also as being locked in a ‘perpetual slumber’ - a suitable 
metaphor for an ice-cap in deep-freeze. 

• Indra’s slaying of Ahi/Vrtra is compared to the sudden opening of obstructed 
fountains. 

• The floods pouring down off the mountains are incredibly strong - strong enough to 
cleave rocks and ridges asunder as they carve out their paths. 

• Large chunks of the central dome of the ice-cap get flushed out with the powerful 
onrushing floods (‘Rolled in the midst of never-ceasing currents flowing without a 
rest for ever onward, the waters bear off Vrtra’s nameless body’). 

• Filled with jostling icebergs, the waters are turbulent and noisy, like stampeding 


herds of cattle, as they foam out of the rocky gorges and rush towards the ocean. 

• The dramatic effects of the meltdown include tremendous descending waves 
(‘glacier waves’, see chapter 3) that form in the vast pools of meltwater on the 
surfaces of large glaciers (‘There he lies like a bank-bursting river, the waters taking 
courage flow above him. The Dragon lies beneath the feet of torrents’). 

• Gigantic earthquakes are unleashed as the burden imposed by the ice-cap on the 
land beneath is suddenly reduced; in the Himalayas and Kara-korams, which are 
anyway amongst the fastest-rising regions on earth, such isostatic rebound might 
have been amplified by normal mountain-building processes (‘the steadfast 
mountains shook in agitation’). 

• Distant desert areas far downstream are flooded. 

• The floods are of a nature to fill ‘many seas’. 

• After the catastrophic events that denuded the Himalayas and the Kara-korams of 
much of their Pleistocene ice-cover and that perhaps left them looking very much as 
they do today, the Seven Rivers that previously had been dammed up or frozen at 
their headwaters by the expansion of the ice-cap were set free and began to flow 
again in their normal courses. 

Plausible? Some of it, perhaps. But this is one of the problems with the game of 
interpreting myth: the meaning ascribed may be more in the eye of the beholder than 
anywhere else ... 

Still, after reviewing the whole Vrtra mystery, I thought it made sense to look more 
closely into the scientific literature about the Himalayas. What did the 
palaeoclimatologists say had been happening there during the 10,000 years after the 
end of the Last Glacial Maximum when every other ice-covered area in the world, as far 
afield as New Guinea, the Andes, North America and northern Europe, was 
simultaneously experiencing the danger and the drama - but also the promise for a 
better future for mankind - of a ferocious meltdown? 


Flying through ELA Land 

Scientists studying ice-caps and glaciers make much use of the acronym ELA, which 
stands for Equilibrium Line Altitude, ‘the altitude on a glacier at which annual 
accumulation [of ice] is exactly matched by annual ablation [melting], so that the net 

mass balance is zero’. 51 As one might expect, numerous studies have confirmed that 
ELAs across the Himalayan and Karakoram mountains were significantly lower at the 
Last Glacial Maximum than they are today (i.e. the ice-coverage descended further into 
the valleys and the ice-cap was therefore deeper - although opinions differ somewhat as 
to exactly how much deeper). A few examples from the literature are sufficient to 
illustrate the consensus on this matter: 


It is evident that there is still considerable room for disagreement on the glacial succession in the north-west 
Himalaya and Karakoram, and even on the details of the events during the last Pleistocene glaciation. This is 
illustrated by the continuing divergence of opinion on the ELA depression during the Last Glacial Maximum, the 
maximum (of Haserodt) being 1250 metres and the minimum (of Scott) being 720 metres ... Despite the apparent 
diversity in the estimates of ELA-depression-values for the Last Glacial Maximum, values for the north-west 
Himalaya, Greater Karakoram and Swat Kohistan tend to cluster in the range 800-1000 metres. 5 " 

For the Dunde ice cap on the northern flank of Tibet ... we have interpreted a temperature decrease of four to six 
degrees Centigrade and consequent lowering of equilibrium line altitude (ELA) in the range of 700-850 metres 
during the last glacial stage. 5 

Estimated maximum depressions of ELAs range from approximately 1100 metres below present values (Swat 
Kohistan and the Hunza Valley in the Karakoram range) to 600 metres (southern side of the Zanskar range). 54 

Depressions of ELA were calculated from glacial geological mapping of the former extent of the glaciers. Maximum 
ELA depressions were 700 metres below present values in the Ningle Valley, 750 metres in the Liddar Valley, and 
800 metres in the Sind Valley. 55 

ELAs were reconstructed for the Last Glacial Maximum advance ... The results show an ELA depression of 
approximately 1000 metres below present values in the Ladakh range. 56 

One would not go far wrong by saying that the average lowering of ELA over the 
Himalayan/Karakoram ice-cap at the Last Glacial Maximum was probably of the order 
of 750 metres - i.e. about three-quarters of a kilometre. 

Now what does this mean in practical terms? Writing in Science, Nicholas Borozovic, 
Douglas Burbank and Andrew Meigs helpfully provide an answer to this question with 
special reference to the north-western Himalayas and the Karakorams at the Last Glacial 
Maximum: 


AFGHANISTAN 


\r*r cS*’ 


CHINA 




Delhi < 


Uttiri \ 




i\ 


.a'- 


Tibetan 

Plateau 


*4 


Kaxach i * 


N D I A 


Iranian Sea 





small changes in ELA significantly increase the percent surface area covered by glaciers when the region lies at an 
altitude similar to the EL A ... For deeply incised mountainous regions (Nanga Parbat, the Karakoram, and 
Elaramosh and Rakaposhi] there is an approximately linear relation between ELA lowering and the area above the 
snowline. Modern-day glaciers in the Karakoram are extensive; conditions at the LGM would have nearly doubled 
the area above the snowline available for their accumulation areas. For the Nanga Parbat and Elaramosh and 
Rakaposhi regions, LGM conditions could have nearly quadrupled the area above the snowline ... For the plateaus 
and dissected plateaus, the effect of lowering EL As is even greater on the landscape. The Deosai Plateau is 
unglaciated today but would have been blanketed by an ice sheet during LGM conditions. 5 

Years ago, so long ago it seems like a former incarnation, I flew in a five-seater 
Alouette helicopter over the bleak high plains of the Deosai plateau above Skardu. At 
one edge of the plains, which, if not permanently glaciated, were certainly deeply 
blanketed in snow, there is a lake, frozen most of the year round, called Shershar. 
Hovering over it in the thin air, we could see the distant peaks of the surrounding 
mountains, ice-bound, marching away in all directions. 

It was March or April of 1981, I was still thirty and I was working with Mohamed 
Amin - a great friend and a great photographer who much later tragically lost his life in 
the Ethiopian Airlines hijack of 1996. We spent an exhilarating, nerve-racking fortnight 
flying around the Karakorams in the Alouette, which was owned by the Pakistan Army 
and piloted by a lieutenant colonel and a major with impressive handlebar moustaches. 
We were based in Gilgit, in the shadow of the 7,788 metre shark-tooth peak of 
Rakaposhi, and every day we went out and flew at ridiculous altitudes through the 
mountains - sometimes plunging down below the snowline into secret, verdant valleys - 
so that Mo could get the spectacular photographs that would later feature in our book 

Journey Through Pakistan. ' 1 On the third morning, in all seriousness, I wrote out a will 
and left it with my passport in my hotel room. 

The Alouette had a service ceiling of around 3300 metres, but we frequently struggled 
and clattered up to over 5200 metres - the pilots said it was a training exercise for them 
- and then just hung there suspended amidst the glaring white wilderness under the 
bright blue sky. It was a very macho thing to do with no oxygen on board and the 
machine wasn’t really built for it, but it brought home to me, more clearly than any 
other experience could possibly have done, how immense these mountains are. When we 
flew by Rakaposhi at 5000 metres, with our rotors almost brushing its flank, its peak 
still towered nearly 3000 metres above us. And within a 160 kilometre radius of Gilgit 
there are 100 peaks over 5486 metres high, including K2 which, at 8610 metres, is the 

world’s second-highest mountain. 59 

In an area of such superlatives it is hardly surprising that the north-west Himalayas 
and the Karakorams contain some of the longest valley glaciers in the world outside of 

the polar regions 60 - and these huge glaciers coil through the ranges like ancient 
serpents of myth, their backs ridged with serried ranks of ice-scales. 

At the Last Glacial Maximum they may have been up to four times as massive and the 


whole landscape surrounding them would have been locked and frozen in deep ice-cover 
extending to altitudes of 4000 metres - as much as a kilometre further down than 

today. 61 

Imagine what must have happened when all that ice melted down. 


So, what did happen? 

The scientific literature covering various effects and phenomena of the Ice Age in the 
Himalaya/Karakoram area is growing fast - as is interest in this subject amongst 
palaeoclimatologists and geologists. 

One important issue that has been much debated concerns the glaciation and 
deglaciation of the Tibetan plateau at various periods during the past 2.5 million years. 
It has even been controversially suggested that the geologically recent uplift of Tibet as 
a result of mountain-building forces in the Himalayas between 3 and 2.5 million years 
ago may have been the specific trigger that set the Pleistocene Ice Age in motion 
‘through the effects this had on the Earth’s rotation as well as on the circulation of ocean 

and atmosphere’. 62 

A related area of active debate concerns the overall extent of the Himalayan ice-cap. 
Here, explains Edward Derbyshire of the University of London’s Quaternary Research 
Centre, the broad measure of agreement that exists on the magnitude of the ELA 
depression at the Last Glacial Maximum: 

is not matched by agreement on the regional extent of the last glaciation which has been described, at one extreme, 
as an ice sheet of continental scale and, at the other, as an Alpine glaciation in the Karakoram-northwest Himalayan 
region with some trunk valleys remaining unglacierized. 63 

How is it possible for serious and respected scientists, reporting their studies in peer- 
reviewed journals and working from essentially the same evidence base, to have come 
up with such divergent views about the extent of the Himalayan glaciation? ‘The 
explanation of the apparent paradox,’ suggests Derbyshire, lies in the difficulty of 
interpreting the chaotic geological record in this extremely mountainous region: 

The world’s greatest relief is a locus of enormous geodynamic energy consisting of a complex interplay between 
tectonics and glacial and fluvial erosion associated with widespread and frequently catastrophic mass wasting. One 
obvious product of such a situation is the problem of reliably discriminating between diamictons deposited by 
glacier ice and those laid down by other processes. The two suites of processes are frequently intimately related, 
posing a recurrent challenge to those attempting to establish limits of past glaciations. 64 

‘Diamicton’ is a general term used to describe a mixture of sand, clay, silt or gravel that 
is laid down by various geological processes - notably the forces of flowing rivers, or 
moving glaciers, or lakes draining catastrophically. Derbyshire’s point is that where 
ongoing geological activity results in a continuous mixing up and redepostion of the 


materials being studied - as is most definitely the case in the Himalayas - then there is 
obviously going to be uncertainty over the extent of glaciation in the region at any 
particular moment in the past. 

The range of the uncertainty surrounding the extent of the ice-cap at the LGM is, 
however, surprisingly large - since there is all the difference in the world between ‘an 
ice-cap of continental scale’ on the one hand, and a regional ‘Alpine glaciation’ on the 
other. Moreover, this uncertainty seems even greater when it comes to immediately 
post-glacial events. Indeed, although a great deal is known about the cataclysmic 
meltdown of other ice-caps in this period, I was surprised to discover that the literature 

has relatively little to say about what happened in the Himalayas after the LGM. 65 


Before and after 

Scientists have been able to pick up traces of at least one cataclysmic melting event that 
took place in the area before the LGM. It is another measure of the uncertainty of the 
data available for study that the date-range offered for this flood is very wide - it could 

have happened any time between 28,000 years ago and 43,000 years ago. 
Fortunately, its imprint on the landscape has not been as badly obliterated and jumbled 
as those of earlier and later floods and geologists have narrowed its location to the 
Upper Chandra valley in the Lahul Himalaya. Using landforms and sediment data, Peter 
Coxon, Lewis Owen and Wishart Mitchell, writing in the Journal of Quaternary Science, 
conclude that former glacial Lake Batal - which had backed up the Chandra valley for 
about 14 kilometres - suddenly burst through its ice dam. When it did so it released 
almost one and a half cubic kilometres of water into the valley in less than a day: ‘This 
cataclysmic flood was responsible for major resedimentation and landscape 

modification within the Chandra valley.’ 67 

Further striking but unfortunately undatable evidence of colossal ancient outburst 
floods is provided by the presence of numbers of large boulders scattered across the 
Potwar plateau - so-called ‘Punjab erratics’ - which geologists now believe were ‘carried 

down the Indus valley by catastrophic flooding, probably in iceberg rafts’ 68 The traces of 
violent outburst floods long after the post-glacial meltdown was over, have also been 
widely recognized and there are a number of eye-witness accounts. In 1959, for 
example, there was 

a sudden outburst from an ice-dammed lake in the Shimsal valley which caused a flood wave of approximately 30 
metres to be produced, destroying the village of Pasu at the confluence with the Hunza River, 40 kilometres down- 
valley. 69 

Similarly, when a moraine-dammed glacial lake in the Khumbu area of eastern Nepal 
called Dig Tsho burst on 4 August 1985, the consequences for the region were 
catastrophic: 


The destruction of a newly-built hydroelectric power plant, 14 bridges, about 30 houses, and many hectares of 
valuable arable land, as well as a heavily damaged trail network resulted from 5 million cubic metres of water 
plummeting down the Bhote Kosi and Dudh Kosi valleys. The breaching of the moraine was triggered by wave 
action following an ice avalanche of 150,000 cubic metres into the lake. The surge had a peak discharge of 1600 
cubic metres per second; 3 million cubic metres of debris were moved within a distance of less than 40 
kilometres. 70 

The most spectacular event, however, was undoubtedly the great Indus flood of 1841 
- a deluge of near biblical proportions which, like the return of the waters of the Red 
Sea after the Hebrews had passed safely through to the other side, destroyed a vast 
army. 

The first step was an earthquake in late 1840 or early 1841. The earthquake caused 
the collapse of the Lichar Spur, part of the flank of Nanga Parbat, which blocked the 
Indus valley to a depth of 300 metres, strangled the downstream flow of the Indus to a 
trickle for six months and caused a lake 60 kilometres long and 300 metres deep to back 
up behind it. When the blockage was breached in June 1841 a gigantic flood wave was 
released. The wave raced downstream along the (by then almost dry) course of the 
Indus at a terrifying pace and fell upon a Sikh army that was camped on the Chach 

plain near Attock, 400 kilometres downstream. 71 Eye-witnesses later reported that: 

A wall of mud, many tens of metres high, rushed down the watercourses. Those people not fast enough to reach the 
high ground, numbering several thousand troops and camp followers, were lost. Trees were uprooted, buildings 
destroyed, artillery guns scattered, and farmland washed away. Large areas of the Vale of Peshawar were flooded as 
the various tributaries banked up against the Indus floodwaters. 72 

Today there is increasing awareness of the dangers posed by outburst floods 
specifically related to glaciation. It has been pointed out, for example, that more than 
thirty glaciers in the Karakoram mountains are presently in a position to ‘form 
substantial dams on the Upper Indus and Yarkand river systems. Many more interfere 

with the flow of rivers in a potentially dangerous way.’ 73 According to Kenneth Hewitt 
of Wilfred Laurier University, Canada: 

A particularly large and dangerous dam occurs where a glacier enters and blocks a major river valley of which it is a 
tributary ... In one region of the world, ... the Karakoram Himalaya and neighbouring ranges, there has been a 
substantial number of these main valley glacier lakes in modem times. Outbursts from a series of dams ... between 
1926 and 1932 brought devastating floods along more than 1200 kilometres of the Indus. Some even larger landslide 
dams and outburst floods occurred here in the nineteenth century and an exceptional concentration of surging 
glaciers has been found. Some of the latter have formed main valley ice dams ... Thirty-five destructive outburst 
floods have been recorded in the past two hundred years. 74 


Stocktaking 


There are a few details that are worth holding on to. 


The Equilibrium Line Altitude of glaciation in the Himalayas at the LGM was about 
three-quarters of a kilometre or more lower than it is today. 

The ice-cap at the LGM was much more extensive than it is today - although there is 
no agreement over exactly how much more extensive. 

There have been catastrophic outburst floods from the Karakorams and the Himalayas 
in the past, floods that reshaped landscapes, floods that carried icebergs full of huge 
impacted rocks all the way down to the Potwar plateau. 

Such outbursts continue to occur and even in the much reduced conditions of today’s 
glacial cover they can produce floodwaves 30 metres high capable of smashing whole 
villages to smithereens and destroying armies. 

The region is uniquely plagued by the particularly dangerous and rare phenomenon of 
its main river valleys being dammed by gigantic landslides or by the encroachment of 
glaciers - a sure recipe for catastrophic outburst flooding. 

Paradoxically, despite the evidence for catastrophic outburst floods before the Last 
Glacial Maximum, as well as in much more recent times, the literature pays scant 
attention to the issue of outburst flooding in the Himalayas during the 10,000 years 

after the LGM. 5 

But this shouldn’t prevent us from asking a few common-sense questions: 

1. If main river valleys are threatened by glaciers today, and if even a giant river like 
the Indus can be blocked for six months, then isn’t there every probability that the 
threat would have been much bigger and much worse under LGM conditions? 

2. Is it unreasonable to speculate - as the Rig Veda has been telling us all along - that 
there could have been a time, within the memory of man, when some of the great 
rivers of north India were indeed choked off, most likely by giant glaciers entering 
and blocking their main valleys up in the Karakoram and Himalayan ranges? If so, 
then those glacial dams would eventually have burst asunder and the rivers chained 
up within them would have been set free once again ... 

3. Last but not least, is it so far-fetched to wonder if such a sequence of events might 
have inspired the great Vedic myth of Indra’s slaying of Vrtra with its specific 
symbolism of the freeing of the Seven Rivers? 

Probably no more far-fetched than the more orthodox ‘cloud-demon’ and ‘drought 
demon’ ideas, but hardly foolproof as a theory. For example, there’s the absence of 
evidence of flooding in the Himalayas after the LGM - but that means very little given 
the state of the geological record (and the level of disagreement amongst geologists on 
the actual extent of the maximum glaciation). 

More seriously there is the other ‘face’ of the Vrtra myth - the clear association that 
some of the hymns make between the presence of the Dragon and the withholding of 
rain on the one hand, and between the slaying of the Dragon by Indra and the return of 


the rain on the other. 


How is that to be explained if Vrtra is a symbol for glaciation? 


The dry and the wet 

Sediments in ocean-bottom cores taken in the Arabian Sea off the south-west coast of 
India contain pollen traces that tell us about the types of vegetation that grew on the 
subcontinent at different periods going back to the Last Glacial Maximum - and since 
vegetation cover is determined by climate, reliable deductions can be made from these 
pollen records about India’s climate in past epochs. 

The Arabian Sea cores demonstrate that there was a period of extreme cold and 

aridity in India between 25,500 years ago and 21,500 years ago. 5 This period is 
described by Elise Van Campo of the Universite des Sciences et Techniques du Languedoc 

as ‘the LGM interval’ 7 and coincides exactly with other indications from around the 
world of the duration of LGM conditions (i.e., the Last Glacial Maximum was not a peak 
reached for a very short time, but rather a plateau of extreme glaciation that was 
sustained, in India at any rate, for 4000 years). When warming did set in, it set in 
quickly and between 21,500 years ago and 13,000 years ago the Indian climate did a 
180-degree flip from cold and arid to warm and wet: 

The major fluctuations of the Indian monsoon climate are characterized by two extreme periods, a very arid period 
around [25,500 to 21,500 years ago] and a very humid period culminating at [13,000 years ago] ... The climate 
conditions of the LGM interval were greatly different from modern conditions. The southwest monsoon, which 
produces a strong asymmetry between the western and the eastern coasts of the Arabian Sea, was considerably 
reduced and arid conditions were very similar on both sides) ... 78 (Carbon-14 dates in original text replaced with 
approximate equivalents in calendar years.) 

What this would have meant in the Himalayas between 25,500 and 21,500 years ago 
was 4000 years of deep freeze as the ice tightened its grip on the valleys and the 
headwaters of the rivers in the mountains. 

Then at the peak of the LGM interval, some time soon after 21,500 years ago, the 
phase of warm, wet climate in India abruptly kicked in. Back to the Arabian Sea cores, 
which demonstrate: 

an increase of monsoonal rainfall as early as about [19,700 years ago] at 10 degrees north and at [18,500 years ago] 
at 15 degrees north. This period ... culminates synchronously at [13,500 years ago] at 10 degrees and at 15 degrees 
north and is considered as the period of the greatest abundance of monsoonal rains. 

Worldwide, we know that the period of 14,000 to 13,000 years ago, which coincides 
with the peak of abundant monsoonal rains over India, was marked by violent oceanic 
flooding - in fact, the first of the three great episodes of global superfloods that 
dominated the meltdown of the Ice Age. The flooding was fed not merely by rain but by 


the cataclysmic synchronous collapse of large ice-masses on several different continents 
and by gigantic inundations of meltwater pouring down river systems into the oceans. 80 

If this was happening in other glaciated regions such as North America and northern 
Europe between 14,000 and 13,000 years ago, then things are unlikely to have been 
very different in the Himalayas, and it seems safe to assume that there must have been 
episodes of exceptionally powerful outburst flooding and that all the great rivers from 
the Indus to the Ganges would at that time have been in full flow. 

So is 14,000 to 13,000 years ago a candidate epoch for the events recounted in the Rig 
Veda as the slaying of Vrtra and the freeing of the Seven Rivers? 

The answer has to be no - simply because the previous 7000 years had witnessed a 
continuous worldwide increase in temperature and because 14,000 to 13,000 years ago 
was the peak and the climax of this long, humid warming phase in India. As such, it is 
most unlikely that the glaciers in the Karakorams and the Himalayas would have been 
surging or advancing so as to block or ‘enchain’ rivers in the way that the Rig seems to 
describe. On the contrary, everything suggests that the flow of the rivers should have 
been uninterrupted from the end of the cold, dry LGM interval 21,000 years ago until 
the clear end of the humid phase that shows up in the cores at around 13,000 years ago. 

Moreover, the Vedic myth portrays the slaying of Vrtra as being followed by the 
release of the waters - both rivers and rain. This is very clear and, in a way, the point of 
the whole thing. But that was not what happened. 


A Dragon called the Younger Dry as 

What happened, at around 13,000 years ago, was that the long period of uninterrupted 
warming that the world had just passed through (and that had greatly intensified, 

according to some studies, between 15,000 years ago and 13,000 years ago) 81 was 
instantly brought to a halt - all at once, everywhere - by a global cold event known to 

palaeoclimatologists as the ‘Younger Dryas’ or ‘Dryas III’. 82 In many ways mysterious 
and unexplained, this was an almost unbelievably fast climatic reversion - from 
conditions that are calculated to have been warmer and wetter than today’s 13,000 

years ago, 83 to conditions that were colder and drier than those at the Last Glacial 

Maximum, not much more than a thousand years later. 

From that moment, around 12,800 years ago, it was as though an enchantment of ice 
had gripped the earth. In many areas that had been approaching terminal meltdown full 
glacial conditions were restored with breathtaking rapidity and all the gains that had 
been made since the LGM were simply stripped away: 

Temperatures ... fell back on the order of 8-15 degrees centigrade ... with half this brutal decline possibly occurring 
within decades. The Polar Front in the North Atlantic redescended to the level of Cabo Finisterre in northwest Spain 
and glaciers readvanced in the high mountain chains. With respect to temperature the setback to full glacial 


conditions was nearly complete ... 85 

For human populations at the time, in many except the most accidentally favoured 
parts of the world, the sudden and inexplicable plunge into severe cold and aridity must 
have been devastating. And in the Karakoram-Himalayan region, as in other glaciated 
areas, it is very likely that it was accompanied by a significant readvance of the ice-cap 
that previously had been in recession for some 7000 years. 

Is it possible that that this hypothetical readvance of the Himalayan ice-cap between 

12,800 years ago and 11,400 86 years ago could be the event personified in the Rig Veda 
as Vrtra the Dragon, the enchanter, the great magician, ‘who barred up the waters’? 

Since the slaying of Vrtra resulted in the release of the waters to flow to the sea, it 
obviously made sense to find out if there was evidence of sudden large-scale meltwater 
floods off the mountains shortly after 11,400 years ago when the ‘climate switched back 

to warm, moist Holocene conditions, over only a few decades’. 87 


Salt and freshwater 

I did find evidence of floods. It was in another set of cores taken off the Indian coast. 
According to a report in Nature by a team of Australian scientists: 

Microfossil, sediment and oxygen-isotope studies of deep-sea cores from the Bay of Bengal and northern Arabian Sea 
have revealed strong contrasts between high late Pleistocene and low early Holocene salinity values, indicative of 
major changes in runoff from the large rivers of southern Asia. 

Some definitions: salinity values measure the ‘saltiness’ of the sea, so ‘high salinity 
values’ mean a saltier sea and low salinity values mean a less salty sea - i.e, a sea with 
more freshwater in it. The Pleistocene-Holocene boundary is set, arbitrarily, at 12,000 
years before the present. ‘Late Pleistocene’ is loose language but generally means the 
few thousand years before 12,000 years ago. ‘Early Holocene’ is loose language too but 
generally means anywhere between 12,000 years ago and 10,000 years ago. 

Why were India’s seas so salty just before 12,000 years ago? The most likely 
explanation is that the flow of the great rivers draining the Karakoram-Himalayan 
region had virtually ceased because of the advance of glaciers into their main valleys 
during Dryas III - pretty much as the Rig Veda tells us (‘Ahi who besieged the waters ... 
the insatiate one, extended, hard to waken, who slumbered in perpetual sleep’). 
Likewise, the explanation for the low salinity values that suddenly appear soon after 
10,000 years ago is a sudden gigantic inrush of freshwater to the Arabian Sea and the 
Bay of Bengal on a scale that could have been caused by the breaching of ice dams in 
the Himalayas, the freeing of rivers pent up behind them, and the flushing out of parts 
of the ice-cap. (The Dragon stretched against the seven prone rivers, where no joint 
was, thou rentest with thy thunder.’ ‘Like lowing kine in rapid flow descending, the 
waters glided downward to the ocean.’) 


All in all, therefore, even in the absence of direct evidence of flooding of the type 
described in the Rig Veda, the indirect evidence from the ocean cores does suggest that 
such floods must have occurred and that they could have followed a period, however 
brief, when the main rivers of northern India had in fact dried up. So the hypothesis that 
the Vrtra story in the Rig Veda might be describing glacial outburst floods remains a 

reasonable one. 89 

Conveniently, the ambiguity over Vrtra’s character is also removed. Now he is at one 
and the same time an ice dragon blocking the flow of the mighty rivers and a rain¬ 
withholding demon whose period of grim enchantment over the Himalayas is brought to 
an end not only by the freeing of the rivers but also by the abrupt return to heavy rains 

and warm, wet conditions that we know followed the Younger Dryas." 

All this is speculation, of course, and implicit in it is a deeply heretical assumption - 
the assumption that the sages who composed at least some of the verses of the Vedas 
could have been in the Himalayas 12,000 years ago to witness the end of the Younger 
Dryas cold advance and to commemorate it as Indra’s victory over Vrtra. This does not 
fit at all with the much later date that scholars habitually assign to composition of the 
Rig Veda - but then neither do the accounts of a full and turbulent Sarasvati that the Rig 
provides us with and that also seem to sketch out the archaic geography of 10,000 or 
more years ago. 


Mehrgarh’s yogic ethic 

Growing up in the industrialized and now the electronic world, dominated as it has been 
by the rival material philosophies of capitalism and communism, we automatically 
imbibe from schools, peers and parents the idea that civilization is something that man 
invented in order to meet his material and economic needs. This is why, when 
archaeologists look for the origins of civilization, they look for the material and 
economic forces that might have driven hunter-gatherers to become farmers and to 
create the first permanent village communities. 

But India, with its vibrant spiritual culture, its armies of ragged pilgrims and its 
remarkable Vedas raises the possibility that the real origins of civilization could be very 
different - not driven by economics but by the spiritual quest that all true ascetics of 
India still pursue with the utmost dedication. Such a quest does not deny that the basic 
material requirements of the human creature must be met but seeks to limit our 
attachment to material things and in general to subordinate material needs to mental 
and spiritual self-discipline. 

In the sparseness, understatement and efficiency of Mehrgarh’s most ancient period 
could it be that we are seeing the imprint of this essentially yogic ethic - which the 
Vedas anyway tell us was the ethic of most ancient India? 

And since archaeologists are now in universal agreement that there is an unbroken 
continuity of culture from Mehrgarh I around 9000 years ago all the way down to the 


great cities of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization around 4500 years ago, shouldn’t we 
expect signs of the same yogic ethic to turn up there? 



PART THREE 


India (2) 



9 / Fairytale Kingdom 


If Dwarka could be located and identified, well the personality of Krishna is not a myth but a fact. 

S. R. Rao, discoverer of the Dwarka underwater ruins, 29 February 2000 

I stood in the Harappan Gallery of the National Museum in New Delhi peering through 
security glass at a small steatite seal from Mohenjodaro. Dated to approximately 2700 

bc , 1 the seal depicts an ascetic seated in difficult posture of highly advanced yoga known 

as mulubandhasana . 2 Lean-waisted, bearded, half-naked, phallus erect, the figure wears a 
head-dress of buffalo horns over long, unkempt hair. His face might be a mask. It is 
powerful, almost hypnotic, and there is the suggestion of two further faces (or masks?) 
in profile looking to either side. He is surrounded, but clearly unthreatened, by 
dangerous big-game animals - wild buffalo, rhinoceros, elephant, tiger. His arms are 
covered with bangles and stretched out so that his hands rest loosely on his knees - the 
traditional signal of a state of profound meditation. 



Pasupati seal (2700 bc) from Mohenjodaro, showing a god in ayogic posture. 


It is often said that we can never hope to learn much about the religious beliefs or the 
guiding philosophy of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization because we cannot read its script - 
a line of which appears above the meditating figure. Yet even though the inscription is 
opaque to us this enigmatic seal from Mohenjodaro does provide some definite and 
indeed rather intriguing information. 

It tells us that at least the outward appearances of the ascetic mind-body disciplines of 
meditation and physical self-control which still lie at the heart of the spiritual lifestyle in 
Hindu India in the twenty-first century were being practised 4700 years ago in the 
Indus-Sarasvati cities. 

It tells us specifically that yoga, one of the six orthodox schools of Vedic philosophy, 3 
was already known 4700 years ago as a fully evolved system - since mulubandhasana 
cannot be achieved by beginners but requires the prior mastery of numerous 





intermediate postures. 4 Unless we are to imagine that yoga was miraculously conjured 
into being all at once as a complete system 4700 years ago, it tells us that the origins of 
the system must be much older even than that. And since variants of the lean, unkempt 
yogic figure performing mulubandhasana are ‘amongst the most common motifs in Indus 

ritual art’, 5 it tells us that the classic image of the rishi, the yogic sage or seer, that is 
summoned up again and again in the Vedas, was also ubiquitous amongst the Indus- 
Sarasvati people in the third millennium bc. 

Moreover, if scholars are right in their universal consensus that the Mohenjodaro seal 

‘depicts the figure of a god seated in yogic posture’ 6 then we are witness to an amazing 
continuity in religious iconography - for to this day the Hindu god Siva is ‘the Lord of 
Yoga’ and is to be seen depicted on temple walls throughout India as a lean, almost 
naked, meditating ascetic with shaggy hair and sometimes even with a similarly erect 
penis (the latter feature not meant to imply unconstrained lust but rather its opposite; 
in Tantric Hinduism Siva’s erection symbolizes complete yogic control of bodily 

desires). Siva, too, is called Pasupati, the ‘beastmaster’ or ‘Lord of animals’, because of 
his ability to tame ferocious beasts with his yogic powers - exactly in the manner in 

which the figure on the Mohenjodaro seal seems to be portrayed. 8 Even the phallic 
lingam symbol (the butter-smeared stone column erected in the inner sanctum of every 
Siva temple in India and regarded by worshippers as an embodiment of the god himself) 

is prefigured in the Indus-Sarasvati cities by conical sacred stones or ‘proto-linga’. 9 

For all these reasons the yogic god on the steatite seal has been known as ‘proto-Siva’, 
and also routinely spoken of by archaeologists as ‘the Pasupati figure’, since its 

discovery during excavations in the DK area of Mohenjodaro in 1928/9. 10 Yet Western 
scholars like Jonathan Kennoyer attach little significance to the comparisons that 
invoke such epithets: 

The figure has been referred to as ‘proto-Siva’ because of its similarity to later iconography of the deity Siva from 
the Hindu pantheon. Whereas many later Hindu deities may have had their roots in earlier beliefs of the Indus 
Valley or other indigenous communities living in the subcontinent, we cannot confirm specific connections between 
the horned figure on the Indus seals and later Hindu deities. There are similarities in the iconography but the 
meaning relayed may have been significantly different. 


The Vedas and archaeology 

I left the Harappan Gallery deep in thought and walked across the corridor into the 
Museum’s circular central garden. I realized that I felt irritated by Kennoyer’s caution. 
And it wasn’t just because he was downplaying the many interesting iconographic links 
between Siva and the Mohenjodaro figure. Unspoken behind this was the larger problem 

of the Vedas, which also describe a Siva-like or ‘proto-Siva’ deity - the Vedic god Rudra 12 
- and which bestow the utmost respect, even awe, upon seven rishis with yogic powers. 


I found a shady spot to sit down, opened my notebook and scrawled the words 
Summary of Vedic traditions about the origins of civilization in India at the top of a blank 
page: 

Summary of Vedic traditions about the origins of civilization in India: 

1. An earlier civilization, which knew the Vedas and practised yoga, existed before the 
great flood and was destroyed by it. 

2. Manu and the Seven Rishis (Saptarishi) were yogic adepts who survived the flood. 

3. The role of the Seven Rishis was to preserve the Vedas through memorization and to 
repromulgate them amongst post-diluvial humanity. 

4. The role of Manu was to re-establish agriculture after the flood, using a cache of 
seeds and plants that he had brought with him for this purpose, and to become the 
progenitor of future civilized humanity by fathering a dynasty of kings. 

5. The Vedas and the traditions that descend from them depict the Saptarishi as a 
lineage of ascetics. After the flood their primary abode was in the Himalayas, where 
they would retreat to meditate and perform austerities, but they also played 
decisive roles in running and ordering secular affairs, and in the making and 
guidance of kings. 

6. The so-called Saptarishi calendar of ancient India, which of course cannot be 
separated from the traditions of the Seven Rishis, has a start date around 6700 bc - 
almost 9000 years ago. 

Summary of archaeological evidence about the origins of civilization in India: 

1. Fully functional Village farming communities’ like Mehrgarh in the foothills of the 
Himalayas appear suddenly in the archaeological record somewhere around 9000 
years ago. It’s a bit of a mystery. No clear antecedents have yet been found. The 
original settlers came with seeds and already knew how to farm. 

2. This happened in the midst of an epoch of cataclysmic global floods that saw huge 
areas of India’s continental shelf inundated. The possibility, therefore, cannot be 
ruled out that the founders of Mehrgarh had previously lived on lands swallowed up 
by the rising seas. 

3. There is an unbroken archaeological continuum between Mehrgarh 1 A around 7000 
bc and the upsurge of Mohenjodaro and Harappa as great cities after 3000 bc. For 
some reason the rate of growth and development became particularly rapid 
between 2600 and 2500 bc - the mature phase of incredibly vigorous urban 
expansion - but you can see the roots even of this phase in many small and large 
details more than 4000 years older exposed in the excavations of the first habitation 
layers at Mehrgarh. 

4. The paramount ritual image to have come down to us from Mohenjodaro and 
Harappa, and therefore likely to be connected in some way to this ancient heritage, 



recognizably portrays a rishi seated in an advanced yogic posture and seemingly 
deep in meditation. 


Question: 

Why should the people of the largest and most sophisticated urban civilization of antiquity have specially venerated 
the figure of a half-naked ascetic meditating in a rural setting surrounded by ferocious animals? 

If the Vedas were the scriptures of Mohenjodaro and Harappa, then an answer immediately suggests itself. 

They would have venerated the image because they would have been taught from childhood that their 
civilization had been founded, and that it continued to be guided, by rishis looking exactly like this. 

I closed my notebook and returned to the Harappan Gallery for another look at the 
cross-legged, three-faced, buffalo-horned rishi of Mohenjodaro. Well, not exactly cross- 
legged, in fact - because to perform mulubandhasana you first have to sit down and 
bring your heels together with your feet pointing forward whilst placing your knees flat 
on the ground. Next, with your feet still pointing forward, you tuck your heels in under 
your perineum. Then you turn your feet a full 180 degrees under your body so that they 
now point excruciatingly backwards - a manoeuvre that will disclocate the ankles of an 
inexperienced practitioner. Then you meditate. 

How long, I wondered again, does it take to perfect a system like yoga? And if it was 
already perfect 4700 years ago, then how many thousands of years before that must its 
roots go back, what are we to conclude about the level of development of the 
supposedly Stone Age people who created it, and why is there no archaeological trace of 
them? 


Return to the diving quest 
February 2000 

From Delhi I flew to Goa to meet marine archaeologists at India’s National Institute of 
Oceanography, whose research, I hoped, might provide me with some answers. I had 
already been in contact with them by e-mail and telephone for more than a year, trying 
to arrange to dive at Dwarka - which still fascinated me, as it had since 1992, with its 
ancient legends of a flood at the end of a world age and its mysterious underwater 
ruins. The archaeologists seemed friendly enough, even enthusiastic, but answered to 
higher authorities in the Indian government whose blessing they needed before they 
could agree to let me dive with them. 

By this stage, early February 2000, I still didn’t have a clear chronology in which to 
place the underwater structures at Dwarka. Nor, it seemed to me, did the NIO. As I’ve 
reported in previous chapters, there was a general assumption that the ruins had been 
submerged by relatively recent land subsidence (not rising sea-levels) and that they 
belonged to a very late period of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization - 1700-1500 bc. But the 
marine archaeologists had not recovered any datable artefacts that could confirm or 



deny this theory. 

All the more I wanted to look for myself and form my own opinion. 

Legacy of a lost civilization 

February 2000 

On the flights to Goa, and the long stopover in Mumbai, I went back over some of the 
evidence on the origins of civilization in India I’d been considering in recent months, 
reread the notes I had made in the National Museum in Delhi, and then, in large letters, 
wrote the word Hypothesis at the top of an empty page: 

Hypothesis: 

The Indus-Sarasvati civilization, the development of which archaeologists have already traced back 9000 years, has 
an earlier episode of hidden prehistory. It was founded by the survivors of a lost Indian coastal civilization 
destroyed by the great global floods at the end of the Ice Age. 

Such floods occurred many times between 15,000 and 7000 years ago, but a particularly bad episode is attested in 
high salinity levels in the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal between 12,000 and 10,000 years ago. 1 

The convergence of archaeological evidence is that the first food-producing villages like Mehrgarh were 
established immediately after the worst flooding between 10,000 and 9000 years ago. For example, Gregory Possehl: 
There is no entirely satisfactory chronology for the Indus Age, especially for the internal stages and phases of 
prehistoric life. Present estimates, based on radiocarbon dates, suggest that it arises at 7000 or 8000 bc with the 
earliest villages, the domestication of plants and animals and the beginnings of farming and herding societies.’ 14 

The survivors who established the early villages practised a ‘proto-Vedic’ religion that they had brought with 
them from their inundated homeland and probably spoke an early form of Sanskrit. 

The survivors were experienced farmers, as the archaeological record confirms, and their cultural level was high, 
but religious and philosophical considerations (perhaps even a reaction to the supposed ‘judgement’ of the flood on 
their former lifestyle?) led them to create a sparse, utilitarian and ascetic new world - even as they moved gradually 
towards ever larger and more complex urban communities. 

There were secular rulers but the real leadership of the new communities remained vested down the generations 
in the brotherhood of sages whose forefathers had escaped the deluge - the lineage of Vedic masters whose task it 
was to preserve and transmit a precious body of antediluvian knowledge. For thousands of years, from Mehrgarh to 
Mohenjodaro, it was the policies set by these great rishis in pursuit of that objective - rather than in response to 
economic or other material forces - that shaped the steady, peaceful, modest material development of the Indus- 
Sarasvati civilization. 

It was a hypothesis - just that, nothing more. But I’d already been playing around with 
it in my mind for months as my research on India had progressed and it was time to set 
it down on paper. Nothing in it contradicted the archaeological evidence. It made sense 
of the sudden and fully formed appearance of village-farming communities like 
Mehrgarh between 10,000 and 9000 years ago. It took proper account, as other theories 


did not, of the latest science on the end of the Ice Age. It provided a rational basis in 
real events for the Indian flood myth. And it explained the phenomenal longevity and 
continuity of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization from the simplicity of its sudden beginnings 
at the end of the Ice Age until its equally sudden boom and collapse in the third 
millennium bc. 

There was one way to prove the hypothesis very quickly. All I had to do was find 
ruins more than 9000 years old underwater on India’s continental shelf. And that was 
the private hope I had for Dwarka. 


Gatekeepers of the fairytale kingdom 

The headquarters of the National Institute of Oceanography are in Dona Paula, Goa, in 
a pleasant university-style campus of trees and lawns. As well as occupying a modern 
block on the highest point of the campus, the Institute’s many divisions, sub-divisions 
and laboratories sprawl outwards into a suburb of old-fashioned bungalows set beneath 
the trees. The Marine Archaeology Centre is in one of these, identifiable by a display of 
stone anchors and other stone objects mostly retrieved from depths of 5-10 metres 
amongst the underwater ruins at Dwarka. 

My appointment was with Kamlesh Vora, the NIO’s head of archaeology, with whom I 
had been corresponding. I appreciated that he had taken the trouble to process my 
proposal at all, since he could perfectly easily have dismissed it out of hand or just 
ignored it, but the fact was that many months had passed and there was still no sign 
either of approval or disapproval from the higher authorities - in Delhi as it happened - 
to whom he had submitted it. 

‘Now that you are here,’ he said, ‘perhaps it will galvanize them into action.’ 

He picked up the telephone and placed a call to the offices of the Scientific Research 
Council, the NIO’s parent organization and an important spoke in the wheel of central 
government. A lengthy conversation then followed in Hindi. Finally, Kamlesh hung up: 
‘There is a certain lady within the SRC who I need to talk to about your case.’ He gave 
me a gloomy look: ‘Unfortunately she is not at her desk today’ A smile: ‘But I’ll find her 
tomorrow.’ 

‘What do you expect the answer will be?’ 

Kamlesh became gloomy again and explained that never before had the NIO had to 
deal with a request from an author to dive with them at Dwarka. If I was an academic 
or governmental institution seeking to send an observer to the site there would be set 
procedures to follow and the permission process would go along according to a well- 
ordered routine. But since I was a private individual, non-governmental, non-academic, 
and non-Indian into the bargain (raising issues about what sort of visa I should be 
travelling on), no one knew what to do with me. 

And here was the problem. The NIO’s annual campaign in Dwarka, which I was 



hoping to join, was scheduled to go ahead in mid-February (less than two weeks hence) 
but would continue only until mid-March. So my permission had to come through before 
then. If it didn’t I’d miss the campaign and therefore would lose my chance to dive at 
Dwarka until the following year. 

‘You mean you only dive there for one month every year?’ 

‘If we’re lucky. Our funds are very limited, but we do what we can.’ 

‘What if I make my own arrangements? If the permission comes through after the NIO 
has gone is there any way that I can arrange to dive privately at Dwarka?’ 

Kamlesh was horrified: ‘No, not at all. It is a protected national archaeological site, so 
our people have to be with you. Besides, there’s no private diving at Dwarka. There are 
no facilities there. It’s a very out of the way place. We bring our own compressor and 
tanks with us from Goa every year and take them away again when we leave ...’ 

My heart sank. Since I’d first learned of it in 1992 as a non-diver, the underwater city 
of Dwarka had beckoned to me like a fairytale kingdom that seemed far beyond my 
reach. Eight years later I’d acquired the skills, but not yet the permission, to dive at it. 
And I felt helpless to influence the matter in any way. 

‘Come and see me mid-morning tomorrow,’ Kamlesh said. ‘I will try again with the 
SRC. Maybe I will have good news for you.’ 


Write a letter 

I was back with Kamlesh by eleven the next morning, but there was no news, good or 
bad. The lady at the SRC was still not at her desk. He called her again. Still nothing. 
Finally, half an hour later, she answered her phone. Yes, she had received the 
paperwork concerning my proposed visit. Yes, it was being considered. No, there was 
no decision as yet. Kamlesh asked if anything could be done to speed things up. It might 
be a good idea, she told him, if I were to write a letter explaining in greater detail than 
in my original proposal exactly why I wanted to dive at Dwarka. 

Suppressing a mood of rising irritation and bad temper, I took a taxi back to the 
Ciudad de Goa hotel, fired up my portable computer and began to draft the letter - 
which Kamlesh suggested I should address in the first instance to Dr Ehrlich Desa, the 
Director of the NIO. ‘If he intervenes with the SRC on behalf of your case it will make a 
great difference.’ 

When I met Kamlesh later in the afternoon to review the text of the letter, he told me 
that he had spoken to Dr Desa who had agreed to see me at ten the next morning. 

Two days later I left Goa. Permission had still not been given. But my meeting with 
Ehrlich Desa had been encouraging and he had promised his support in fast-tracking my 
application through the SRC. I felt confident that he and Kamlesh would do their best for 
me, and vaguely optimistic that somehow the necessary strings would be pulled to allow 
me to dive at Dwarka. We agreed to stay in touch by e-mail. 



Interlude: the quest for Kumari Random 


My trip to India in February 2000 had multiple objectives and I had intended from the 
beginning to be on the road until the middle of March. So although the hold-ups and 
uncertainties about Dwarka were worrying, they hadn’t yet really inconvenienced me. It 
was perfectly possible that permission could still be granted ... 

Meanwhile Santha and I had long planned another journey in southern India and flew 
first to Madras, now called Chennai, to pick up where we had left off in 1992. 

Then it had been a journey of personal reminiscence - Vellore and the shore temples 
of Mahabalipuram on the Coromandel coast. Now we would start in Mahabalipuram, 
travel inland from there to Tiruvannamalai, a temple sacred to Siva since time 
immemorial, and thence to Madurai, an ancient centre of Tamil learning linked again to 
the yogic god Siva. To the north-east of Madurai we planned to visit Poompuhur, and to 
the south-east Rameswaram on the thin spit of mainland that reaches out towards Sri 
Lanka, dividing the Palk Strait from the Gulf of Mannar. Then we would go on to 
Kaniya Kumari - Cape Comorin - on the southernmost tip of India. 

During 1999 I had begun background research on southern India and had been 
intrigued by what I had found. 

One source of information that had lain unopened in my library for far too long was 
Captain M. W. Carr’s Descriptive and Historical Papers Relating to the Seven Pagodas of the 

Coromandel Coast. 1 As I reported in chapter 5, Carr’s anthology preserves strong local 
traditions of a fabulous antediluvian city at Mahabalipuram swallowed up by the waters 
of a great flood. Those traditions had certainly been in wide circulation in the 
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when the papers in Carr’s anthology were written. I 
wanted to find out if they were still in circulation today and if there could be any 
substance to them. 

I had also come across the work of David Shulman, Professor of Indian Studies and 
Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His wide-ranging 
investigation of Tamil flood myths had helped to put places like Poompuhur, Madurai 
and Kaniya Kumari on the map for me. In the Tamil epic known as the Manimekalai it 
was said that the ancient port-city of Kaveripumpattinam had been flooded by the sea 
off the Poompuhur shore. Other traditions spoke of prehistoric wisdom schools or 
academies ( sangam) established ‘in an antediluvian Tamil land stretching far to the 

south of the present southern border at Cape Comorin’. 16 The name of this lost land, 
which had been swallowed up by the sea in two distinct inundations separated by 
thousands of years, was Kumari Kandam, and its last survivors were said to have fled to 

Madurai. 17 

As usual when I’m on the road I was carrying a shoulder bag full of books and 
reference materials with me, some brought from England, some picked up along the 
way. Following my few days in Goa, I had added substantially to my stack with a pile of 
bulky annual conference reports and back numbers of the NIO’s Journal of Marine 


Archaeology that Kamlesh had given me. 

Serendipitously the very first of these that I browsed through on the flight from Goa to 
Chennai (volume 5-6 of 1995-6) opened with a lengthy paper entitled ‘Underwater 

Explorations off Poompuhur 1993.’ 18 Much of the paper concentrated on an 
archaeological validation of the Manimekalai myth, connecting it to the submerged ruins 
of Kaveripumpattinam ‘an ancient port town of 3rd century bc to 4th century bc that the 
NIO’s marine archaeologists had identified very close to the shore in water generally less 
than 3 metres deep. 1 But the paper also reported the anomalous U-shaped structure 
that the divers had found at a depth of 23 metres more than 5 kilometres out to sea. 20 

I immediately realized that this obscure and neglected reference to a 1993 exploration 
that the NIO had never had the funds to follow up was potentially significant. I did not 
then have access, as I would later, to Glenn Milne’s computerized inundation maps. But 
at that depth and that distance from the shore, common sense alone suggested that the 

U-shaped structure must be extremely old. 21 

The main author of the report and team-leader of the Poompuhur exploration had 
been S. R. Rao, Kamlesh Vora’s predecessor at the NIO and the original discoverer of the 
underwater ruins of Dwarka. Since he was now retired and living in Bangalore, only a 
short hop from Chennai, I decided on impulse that at some point on our journey in the 
south I would try to meet him. 


‘It must have existed 
February 2000 

My encounter with Rao, which I’ve already reported in chapter 1, took place on 29 
February. To my amazement the doyen of Indian marine archaeology proved open to 
the notion that an antediluvian civilization could have existed on the Indian coastal 
lands flooded at the end of the Ice Age: 

It must have existed. You can’t rule that out at all. Particularly, as I have said, since we have found this structure at 
23 metre depth. I mean we have photographed it. It is there, anybody can go and see it. I do not believe it is an 
isolated structure; further exploration is likely to reveal others round about. And then you can go deeper, you see, 
and you may get more important things.^ 

Well return to the quest for Kumari Kandam in chapter 11. For me a big part of it 
unfolded there and then in the year 2000 and an even bigger part - the diving part - in 
2001. 

Meanwhile, a couple of days before my encounter with Rao, something suddenly 
shifted in the turgid backlog of Indian bureaucracy and Kamlesh e-mailed me with the 
good news that the permission had come through - ‘at the eleventh hour’ as he put it - 
and that I would be allowed to dive at Dwarka with the NIO team. Much was owed, 


apparently, to the robust support given to our adventure by Dr Desa. At any rate there 
would be no further obstacles and Santha and I should plan to reach Dwarka on 2 
March. 


The problem of Dwarka’s age 

March 2000 

It felt good to be back in Dwarka again after so many years away and to have the 
opportunity at last to look into the mystery of its underwater ruins. 

When I’d interviewed him in Bangalore, Rao had reaffirmed his longstanding view 
that the ruins are those of an Indus-Sarasvati port probably built between 1700 bc and 
1500 bc during the final years of the civilization’s decline and then flooded by an 
incursion of the sea. However, he admitted that the dates were a supposition not an 
empirical fact. Radiocarbon or thermoluminescence tests, which might settle the matter, 
had not been possible, since the latter requires pottery contemporary with the ruins and 
the former organic materials contemporary with the ruins - neither of which had yet 
been found in submerged Dwarka itself: 

Rao: I mean to be frank, you see, we did some thermoluminescence dating for the 
pottery extracted from the wall which is just on the shore - and of course it also 
partially gets submerged at some times. All right, that gives 1528 bc. But that is 
at a slightly higher terrace than the submerged one. So the submerged one must 
be earlier. 

GH: Would it be fair to say, concerning the underwater structures, that the 
minimum age would be about 1500 bc but that it is possible that they may be 
older? 

Rao: Oh yes, definitely, that you can definitely say. Minimum age would be about 
even 1500, 1600 bc, but an earlier date can’t be ruled out. I mean there is every 
possibility of getting earlier dates. 

GH: My understanding is that underwater structures that have been identified so 
far go down to about 12 metres under the sea? 

Rao: These structures go to about 10 metres depth. Of course, the ridge which was 
converted into a sort of wharf, that is at 12 metres depth. Beyond that we have 

gone, but not much. 23 

GH: Do you think there’s any chance of further ruins being found further out into 
the sea? 

Rao: Maybe. Maybe. I won’t rule that out at all. Because, you see, what we did 
[beyond the 12 metre depth contour] was only side-scan sonar survey. I mean, a 


little diving as well we have done here, but not much, to be frank. I mean, if 
you dive for three days or four days only then you cannot expect to find much 

24 


Expecting the best 

We were to dive at Dwarka off a small wooden sea-going trawler, a rough-and-ready 
working ship crewed by local fishermen that the NIO had chartered. Since its draft was 
too deep to approach the shore it was moored in the bay about half a kilometre to the 
south-west in front of the Gomati river mouth. We were ferried out to it in an inflatable 
dinghy that picked us up from the steps of Gomati Ghat, and as we chugged across the 
bay I found myself looking down impatiently at the water, hoping to get some glimpse 
of whatever lay below. 

The ruins had been thoroughly mapped by the NIO across a large area between the 
mouth of the Gomati - which now lay behind our dinghy to the north-east - and a 
submerged rock ridge about a kilometre out to sea to the south-west that had been cut 
and modified as a wharf when it was above water in ancient times. This was the wharf 
that Rao had mentioned as the site’s deepest known structure at 12 metres and which he 
suspected to have been part of its harbour. 

All the other remains, revealing the outlines of a series of spacious rectilinear 
buildings, lay much closer to shore between just 3 and 10 metres with the majority 

concentrated between 5 and 7 metres. 25 These included twelve so-called ‘citadels’, 
protected by massive bastions, six on each bank of a now submerged section of the 
Gomati channel, where Rao told me he thought that ‘not only the King but also the army 

chief, other officials or his ministers used to live’. 26 The ancient harbour city itself was 
divided into six blocks: 

All six sectors have protective walls built of large well-dressed blocks of sandstone, some as large as 1.5 to 2 m long, 
0.5 to 0.75 m wide and 0.3 to 0.5 m thick. L-shaped joints in the masonry suggest that a proper grip was provided 
so as to withstand the battering of waves and currents. At close intervals semi-circular or circular bastions were 
built along the fort walls in order to divert the current and to have a proper overview of the incoming and outgoing 
ships ... There are entrance gateways in all sectors as surmised on the basis of the sill of the openings. The fort walls 
and bastions, built from large blocks which are too heavy to be moved by waves and currents, are in situ up to one 
or two metres height above the boulder foundation in the sea. In a few places as many as five courses of masonry 
are visible but in others the wall and bastion have collapsed." 7 



Map of submerged ruins off Dwarka. Based on Rao (1999). 


Prepped by such imagery of a fairytale underwater city, and the beautiful 
reconstructions of antediluvian Dwarka that feature in Rao’s books, I confess I was 
expecting the best as I clambered out of the dinghy and up the side of the NIO’s 
chartered fishing boat on the morning of 3 March 2000. 


Bog, weed and sludge 

In the relentless war of heat-exchange that goes on between a diver and the sea, it is the 
sea that always wins in the end. The process is faster in cold water, slower in warm 
water, and can be delayed further by an insulating wetsuit; however, the end result is 
always the same. If the sea is colder than the diver’s body temperature then the diver’s 
body temperature will begin to fall. 

I think of myself as a reasonably experienced diver but I’m fifty years old, way past 
my peak fitness, and I make mistakes. The mistake I made at Dwarka, though I’d been 
warned that the water was only 23 degrees centigrade (and thus 14 degrees below body 
temperature), was not to wear a wetsuit. This would have been fine if I’d been going 
down for just one or two short dives. But we did three dives that day, running to an 
hour or more each. 




The first two dives were on the big concentration of ruins that the NIO had mapped 
between the 5 and 7 metre contour lines. Gone were the lofty turrets, battlements and 
bastions of Rao’s reconstructions and of my imagination. All seemed to have been 
reduced to a ruin-field of haphazardly strewn stone blocks, the angles and edges of 
which poked here and there out of the thick sludge of sediment and slimy green weed 
that carpeted everything. And although the sea was calm that morning, allowing some 
settlement of silts carried down into the bay by the Gomati river, millions of tiny 
particles hung suspended in the water, scattering light like a fog. 

Through the fog I was just able to make out beneath me several dozen large limestone 
blocks that seemed to have come from a collapsed section of wall, not quite megalithic 
in the strict sense of the term, but very close to it, tumbled on top of one another. The 
wall had been dry-stone - no mortar in the joints to keep the courses together. But I 
could see how the masons had dealt with the problem. Many of the bigger blocks had 
been designed to lock into each other with dovetails and, as Rao had commented, with 
carefully chiselled L-shaped joints which would have given extra structural stability. 

The same architectural principle had been used in the massive curved bastions that 
had stood at the corners of the citadels. Although I found none intact, I several times 
came across huge curved monoliths, dressed and polished to very high standards and in 
one case still jointed to a second block. 

Also protruding out of the slime and ooze on the sea-bed were carved hemispherical 
stones, some up to a metre across, with circular holes drilled through their centres. These 
were thought to have been door sockets. 

And trapped amongst the rubble of ancient Dwarka there were still a number of three- 
holed triangular stone anchors that the NIO had not yet salvaged for the display outside 
their offices. Identical anchors, Rao had told me, were known to have been used in the 
Mediterranean by the merchant ships of Cyprus and Syria at around 1400 bc and also in 

the Persian Gulf and at the nearby Indus-Sarasvati port of Lothal. 28 Assuming the 1400 
bc date for this type of anchor to be generally valid, he regarded their presence at 
Dwarka as good circumstantial evidence in favour of his 1600 bc date for the city. 
Certainly, they could only have been dropped here after the ruins had been submerged 
deeply enough for boats to sail over them. 

But one mystery which began to nag at me on those first two dives, since we were 
supposedly in the heart of the ancient city, was that there didn’t seem to be enough stone 
ruins here. This had nothing to do with the stark contrast between Rao’s archaeological 
reconstructions of the antediluvian city and its actual appearance underwater today. 
What bothered me more was the almost equally stark contrast with photographs that 
Rao had shown to me from his personal collection that tracked the NIO’s underwater 

excavations at the site from 1983 to 1994. 29 Although some of the features in those 
photographs were instantly recognizable on the sea-bed, many others were nowhere to 
be seen. Most notable by their absence were several partially intact walls of large stone 
blocks, in some cases up to five courses high, in some cases showing right-angled corners 


where two walls joined, in some cases extending in straight lines away from the camera 
as far as the eye could see - and the visibility was far better in those early shots than the 
fog that I was finning around in now. 

So where were the missing walls? 


Storms 

After I’d surfaced from the second dive and clambered back on board the boat I asked 
Kamlesh this question and he signalled for Sundaresh and Anuruddh Gaur, two of the 
NIO’s senior marine archaeologists, to join us. A geologist by training, Kamlesh himself 
was not then a diver. Gaur and Sundaresh, on the other hand, had been diving at 
Dwarka since the 1980s. 

Their answer was that the majority of the intact walls that had been photographed 
before 1994 either no longer existed or could not be relocated. Apparently, a series of 
severe monsoon storms during the past six years had loosened and dislodged the great 
blocks and tumbled the walls over. Since then sedimentation and weed had covered up 
the debris which had been scattered over a wide area by the monsoon swells. 

I remembered the section of fallen wall that I’d seen early on the first dive and 
thought no more about it. It was only much later that it struck me how odd it was that a 
site which had supposedly been submerged for more than three millennia, and at which 
so many intact structural features had been documented as recently as 1994, could have 
deteriorated so dramatically in just the last six years. 


The rock-cut wharf 

Slightly dodgy-looking curries were available for lunch, cooked by the crew on a 
kerosene stove in the cabin of the fishing boat and served out on a mixture of plastic 
and tin plates. The wind had come up since the morning and wavelets were freshening 
in the bay - not enough to stop us diving but potentially enough to stir up the bottom 
and worsen the visibility. 

I wasn’t feeling particularly well - headache, stiff-neck, nausea - and was aware that 
I had been cold on the last dive, but I didn’t put the two together. I thought that what 
was making me ill was the exhaust gas from the diesel pump that the NIO had on board 
to provide air from the surface via long tubes to technical divers working down below. A 
powerful air-lift system was also operating, sifting silt around the foundations of the 
ruins in the still unsuccessful search for artefacts that could positively identify their 
period of construction. All the vibrations and the fumes were a bit much for me but I 
thought that I’d probably feel better when I got back in the water and could breathe the 
clean air from my tank. 

At this point the voice of reason told me it was time to put my wetsuit on for the 
afternoon’s work and the voice of stupidity urged me not to bother. The voice of 



stupidity won. 

The dive we did that afternoon was with Gaur on the rock-hewn wharf at a depth of 
12 metres about a kilometre out in the bay. Athough this was technically still a shallow 
dive, there was an oppressive darkness and gloom in the dirty green water and I began 
to feel more and more cold, weak and exhausted. 

We swam east on the seaward side of the ridge. As well as its rock-cut features, 
including what were presumed to have been holes for mooring-ropes drilled through it 
at several points, there were a number of hulking megaliths scattered round about it on 
the sea-bed down to depths of about 18 metres. The official view was that these were 
natural slabs that had become detached from the rock ridge due to wave action when 
sea-level had been much lower - and perhaps even before the wharf had been fashioned 
- but to my eye they looked in places as though they had been dressed and cut. 

Quarter of an hour later, still heading east along the ridge, I saw a pattern of other 
smaller blocks, like large tiles, laid out in a square grid amidst a tangle of boulders. I 
went down to investigate and found that the regular pattern seemed to continue under 
the boulders. That was exciting. On the other hand, up close, the little blocks and the 
joints between looked less regular, less man-made, than I had thought... 

I couldn’t make up my mind. And other ambiguous features along the ridge left me, if 
anything, even more in doubt. 


Whitecaps and lentil soup 

I spent the next four days in bed in our dingy hotel room paying the price for being a 
fifty-year-old with no sense and mild hypothermia. A blinding, thudding headache was 
by far the worst of it and continued without any let-up for more than seventy-two hours. 
I felt weak, shaky and couldn’t keep down anything I tried to eat. 

But I wasn’t missing much diving. The wind that had begun to pick up on that first 
afternoon grew steadily stronger during the night, whipping the waves in the bay into 
whitecaps, reducing the visibility to zero and making further diving impossible. The 
NIO’s chartered boat headed back for the shelter of a nearby fishing port and everyone 
waited to see if the weather would improve. 

By the time I dragged myself out of bed the wind had died down and the boat was 
anchored over the ruins again. But the underwater conditions, with the transparency of 
lentil soup, made it impossible to do any serious work. I tried a couple of dives at 
different locations on the site but could see nothing. 

Then the wind came up once more; this time with a forecast that it would continue to 
blow for more than a week, and it became obvious to all that there would be no further 
diving that season. 


Layer upon layer 



How old is the city beneath the waves? 

Sitting on the edge of the Gomati Ghat by the Temple of the Sea God on the last 
evening of our stay in Dwarka, I looked over the agitated waters of the darkening bay 
and tried to figure out the mystery. 

When I’d interviewed Rao at his home in Bangalore, I remembered that he’d told me 
how he had first become involved with excavations at Dwarka more than twenty years 
before. In his work for the Archaeological Survey of India he had arranged the 
demolition of a modern building that stood beside the main Dwarkadish (Krishna) 
temple, blocking the view: 

Rao: It was demolished. When we removed this structure we were surprised to find 
a temple below it - a temple of Vishnu. [Krishna is considered to be an avatar, 

or manifestation in human form, of the Vedic god Vishnu] 30 ... It has beautiful 
sculptures and all that. We were surprised. You see this is a thirteenth-to 
fifteenth-century temple, the present one that we visit, but here is a ninth- 
century temple. How is it? When we dug for that we got two more temples 
below - below that there are two more temples. 

GH: So it’s as though the existing Dwarkadish temple was built on top of an older 
temple? 

Rao: Not the existing one. The one just by the side of it. You see, actually, this 
temple, I mean the existing one, must have been built on top of an ancient one, 
because what we got is a small shrine, and the other shrine must be below the 
present temple. 

GH: But your excavation was beside the existing temple and there underneath you 
found earlier layers? 

Rao: Earlier layers. And further when we dug we came across a clear section 
showing erosion by sea, with pottery and other datable objects of about 1500 bc. 
So between 1500 bc and 1500 ad there must have been continuous occupation 
here of which we hardly know anything. But again sometime there is divine 
help for us. One professor by name of B. R. Rao, a geologist, had come to 
Dwarka to inspect the site for a proposed university. I showed him the section 
and he said yes, this is clear evidence for erosion by the sea. I showed him the 
pottery and he said there must have been a township near by. He said, what 

will you do? I said we have to excavate in the sea - that’s marine archaeology. 31 

Rao then successfully arranged government funding for his proposed venture at 
Dwarka: 

But we did not know how to start the work. We had hardly any experience of marine archaeology. Then I thought 
what we should do now is take a bold step ... Where to look for the structures was the question. Fortunately, there 
is the temple of Samudra Narayana, the sea god. So I said people have been making some offerings here. Maybe 


ancient times also there may have been some structure there and offerings might have been made. So we straight 
away started looking there. And then within a few days we got evidence of the structural remains there, 
underwater. 


An earlier town 

Looking over the bay from the Samudra Narayana temple I reflected on Rao’s dating of 
the underwater ruins to the second millennium bc and the ‘late Harappan’ period. I could 
see no reasons why the scattered structural remains that I had dived on should be any 
older than that - and even some to suspect that they might be younger, perhaps much 
younger. Except for the rock-hewn wharf, which itself was not particularly deep, most of 
the structures were in shallow water of 7 metres or less and might easily have been 
submerged relatively recently in land-subsidence caused by the immense earthquakes 

that periodically afflict Gujerat. 3 Besides, what I’d seen of the underwater ruins looked 
nothing like any of the ‘late Harappan’ settlements I knew of; on the contrary, the 
distinctive curved bastions and general style of the architectural blocks on the sea-bed 
looked much more like medieval Indian construction work than anything to do with the 
Indus-Sarasvati civilization. 

But what intrigued me, and what Rao had been entirely open to, was the possibility 
that there might be other ruins further out to sea which the NIO had not yet found - 
indeed had not yet even looked for. Rao also reminded me that the ancient texts that 
seemed to have correctly predicted the presence of the underwater ruins that he had 
discovered also predict that other older ruins should exist in the vicinity - for Krishna 
was said to have built Dwarka on the site of an even earlier city called Kususthali: 

In fact I used to read the Mahabaratha and also other Puranas like Vishnu Purana and others, where it is clearly 
states that Dwarka was built at Kususthali in such a way that it was surrounded by the sea ... So Krishna comes to 
Kususthali and then builds a town and calls it Dwarka and there existed an earlier town before Dwarka was built... 

What is striking about the story of Krishna’s city being built above an earlier city is 
the way it resonates with the firm evidence we already have from Rao’s excavations 
around the Dwarkadish temple - revealing layers and layers of earlier constructions 
beneath it and around it, going back to a stratum at around 1500 bc that is roughly 
parallel to modern sea-level. The ruins that Rao then found underwater should, as he 
reasons, belong to the time-period immediately before 1500 bc - say 1700 to 1800 bc at 
the earliest - suggesting that the city that today clusters around the Dwarkadish temple 
and down to Gomati Ghat is where it is because it replaces the earlier city that lies 
submerged in the bay beneath it. 

And that city in turn - the city of Krishna - is where it is, the legends say, because of 
the earlier city of Kususthali: 

GH: Is there a sense in the ancient texts that there had been a sacred centre at 


Dwarka in the remote past, a long time ago? Or was it absolutely newly 
established by Krishna? 

Rao: Well, you see, it says that [an ancestor of Krishna] had built that town 
Kususthali and he went to Brahamaloka [a higher world]. So some connection 
with mythology and all that is already there when Krishna comes to that place. 

So the earlier township had some sanctity about it ... 

In an epoch of rising sea-levels the obvious place to rebuild and reconsecrate a 
submerged shrine or sacred centre would be on the nearest area of coast still above 
water. When the new shrine was inundated in its turn it would have to be re-established 
on higher ground - and so on. So maybe this is what we’re seeing at Dwarka: Krishna’s 
Dwarka was built to replace the antediluvian sacred centre that the texts call Kususthali 
- and when Krishna’s Dwarka was inundated, modern Dwarka was built to replace it. 
By inference, if we keep looking further out to sea, beyond what’s left of Krishna’s 
Dwarka - if it really is Krishna’s Dwarka, as Rao believes - then we should find older, 
more deeply submerged ruins. 


3102 bc 

But are the underwater ruins that Rao discovered at Dwarka the remains of ‘Krishna’s 
city’ - or of something else? 

As I sat there overlooking the darkening waves, with the heady aroma of sacred ganja 
being exhaled all around me by the orange-robed sadhus who’d gathered to watch the 
sunset from Samudra Narayana, I remembered feeling that Rao couldn’t have it both 
ways. He couldn’t have his underwater ruins dating archaeologically to around 1800 or 
1700 bc on the one hand and claim on the other that they were the ruins of Krishna’s city 
- since, apart from one minor variant tradition, Krishna is universally believed in India 
to have died at a date equivalent to 3102 bc . 34 This date (see chapter 4) also marks the 
onset of the Kali Yuga. 

But Rao wasn’t trying to have it both ways: 

GH: Another question concerning Krishna. The departure, or death, of Krishna’s 
incarnation, if I understand correctly, is taken as the end of a previous age, of a 
yuga, and the beginning of the Kali Yuga. Now in many calculations that I’ve 
seen - numerous calculations - they all seem to point the beginning of the Kali 
Yuga to 3100 bc approximately. 

Rao: Correct. 

GH: Do you regard that as an impossible date? Because you seem to focus on a 
much later date, in the second millennium bc, for the submerged Dwarka. 

Rao: Well, I wouldn’t call it an impossible date. But what evidence we have got so 


far shows that about 1700 or 1800 bc, by that time this township that is now 
underwater must have been built. Now if so, how is that date wrong? I mean, 
the 3100 bc date. We have discussed this matter in a journal where we said that 
maybe we are yet to find some more antiquities of the same township ... So we 
can’t discard the earlier date totally. 

But if the underwater ruins already excavated do really date back to 1700 or 1800 bc, 
then where is the logical place to search for ruins even older than that - the ruins of the 
city said to have been engulfed by a great flood at the beginning of the Kali Yuga in 
3102 bc? 


Further out , in deeper water 

The connection of the death of Krishna and the submergence of Dwarka to the onset of 
the Kali Yuga is a powerful and widespread tradition in India, as is the connection of 
the Kali Yuga to a start date of 3102 bc. 

We know that the city called Dwarka today is built on a mound made up of 
continuous occupation strata going down to present sea-level at 1500 bc and with ‘a 
clear section showing erosion by sea’ in the lowest stratum - indicative of a marine 
incursion (perhaps a tidal wave?) at that date. 

We know that ruins have been found under that level beneath the sea and 
provisionally dated to 1800-1600 bc, though a more recent date is also possible. These 
ruins extend up to approximately 1 kilometre from the shore. 

Therefore, it follows, if we wish to search for the ruins of 3100 bc and earlier that are 
hinted at in the traditions, that we are going to have to look further out, in deeper 
water. 

In March 2000 I still didn’t have Glenn Milne’s inundation maps and imagined that 
Gujerat’s Ice Age coastline might have extended 5 or at the most 10 kilometres beyond 
the modern shoreline of Dwarka. In fact, as the maps show, Dwarka was almost 100 
kilometres from the sea 16,400 years ago when it was part of a vast antediluvian 
landmass around Gujerat that filled in the Gulfs of Kutch and Cambay - and was still 20 
kilometres inland as late as 10,600 years ago, just after the rapid rise in sea-level 
attested in the deep-sea cores between 10,000 and 9000 bc and the sudden appearance 
of village farming communities along the piedmont of the Himalayas. 




If anywhere in the world looks like a potential ‘nucleus region’, or ‘Ice Age refugium’, 
out of which the first settlers of Mehrgarh and the other ‘aceramic Neolithic’ food- 
producing settlements in north-west India might have sprung, then, surely, this is it? 
And doesn’t it make sense that the descendants of those first settlers, who went on, in 
time, to create the Indus-Sarasvati civilization, might have continued to revere sacred 
coastal sites and to rebuild them further inland whenever the sea-level rose? 


The mystery of the U-shaped structure 

That night, over a farewell dinner with the NIO team, I produced the Journal of Marine 
Archaeology given to me by Kamlesh and opened it at the report on the underwater 
explorations off Poompuhur in the south-east - about as far away from Dwarka as it is 
possible to get and still remain in India. Both Sundaresh and Gaur had participated in 
the 1993 Poompuhur expedition and had co-authored the report with S. R. Rao. Now 
was my chance to quiz them about the anomalous U-shaped structure that they had 
found 5 kilometres from the shore and 23 metres deep and to launch the idea of 
mounting a further expedition with them to Poompuhur at some time in the future. 

We began by discussing the less controversial - and for me less interesting - ruins of 
Kaveripumpattinam in the intertidal zone and the shallows down to 3 metres. These, 
Sundaresh and Gaur concurred, were in the range of 2000 years old, and I had no 
reason to doubt them. 

‘OK,’ I said, ‘so let’s accept that dating for the inshore structures. Then what do you 
find as the water gets deeper?’ 

They told me that their survey had identified fairly extensive structural remains in the 
form of heavily eroded and scattered dressed sandstone blocks down to a depth of about 
7 metres. At the same depth they had also located several curious circular cairns, some 
10 metres in diameter, made up of rounded stones and some small upright stones. 
Nothing was seen deeper than 8 metres until the U-shaped structure and its 
neighbouring mounds suddenly appeared at 23 metres. 

‘Don’t you think that’s odd?’ I asked. 




Sundaresh and Gaur agreed that it was indeed odd since it suggested that the date of 
submergence of the U-shaped structure must be much earlier than the date of 
submergence of the structures inshore. 

‘How much earlier?’ 

‘Maybe 8000 years earlier,’ said Gaur after a moment’s thought. 



Position of various submerged structures off Poompuhur coast. Based on Rao et aL 
(1993). 


‘So if the Kaveripumpattinam structures in 1-3 metres are 2000 years old then what 
you’re saying is that the U-shaped structure might be 10,000 years old?’ 

‘I’m saying it would have been submerged by the rising sea-level about 10,000 years 
ago - maybe even before that. But I think it must be some sort of natural outcrop.’ 

I was genuinely puzzled. ‘Everyone else who has dived on it seems convinced it’s man¬ 
made. Courses of masonry were seen on it. That’s in this report’ - I pointed at the 
Journal of Marine Archaeology - ‘which you co-authored by the way.’ 

Gaur laughed: ‘Yes, but I have my own view and the more I think about it the more I 
am convinced it must be natural.’ 

‘But why? What are your reasons?’ 

‘Because it is a huge structure and we know that there was no culture anywhere in 
India at that time capable of mobilizing the necessary resources and organizing the 
necessary labour to build something so big.’ 

‘That’s just classic old-school historical chauvinism,’ I complained. ‘It’s as though 
you’re saying, “We archaeologists know everything about the past and we won’t let a 




few contradictory facts get in our way.’” 

‘It is a fact! We don’t know of any culture 10,000 years ago that could have built this 
structure.’ 

‘But maybe it was the work of a culture that you don’t know about yet. Maybe this U- 
shaped structure, whatever it is, is the first concrete evidence for the existence of that 
culture. Maybe if you look you’ll find even more structures, even further out, in deeper 
water.’ 

Sundaresh chipped in at this point that he did not agree with Gaur. In his opinion, he 
said, the U-shaped structure was not a natural outcrop: ‘It is definitely man-made. And I 
have seen a second structure, a mound, about 45 metres away at the same depth where 
there are perfect cut blocks scattered on the sea-bed ...’ 

‘But what about the 10,000-year-old date?’ 

‘Maybe the structures are not that old at all. Maybe there has been some great land 
subsidence here that we do not know of, or erosion of the coast by the sea.’ 

It was obvious that the only way to find out, and to settle the mystery, was by doing 
more diving and by careful measurement, observation and excavation of the site. But 
the problem was that since 1993 no funding had been available for a further expedition. 

‘So you have no plans to dive at Poompuhur in the coming year?’ I asked. 

‘Rather you should say no budget,’ Kamlesh intervened dolefully. ‘If somebody will 
finance us to go - only then can we go.’ 

I bit the bullet. ‘So what would it take to finance your team to go back there and dive 
on the site with me later this year or early next year - a sort of special charter, so to 
speak? Is it even possible to do something like that within the NIO’s regulations?’ 

‘Now that the SRC already know of you it should be possible,’ said Kamlesh. ‘I don’t 
see why not.’ 

He spent the next three minutes doing calculations on the back of a napkin and 
finally quoted me a sum equivalent to the gross national product of a small European 
country. 

I gulped but steadied my nerves. It was going to be a long negotiation. 



10 / The Mystery of the Red Hill 


The ground near it is not at all touched by the four oceans that become agitated at the close of the Yuga and that 
have the extremities of the worlds submerged in them ... When the annihilation of all living beings takes place, 
when all created things are reabsorbed ... all the future seeds are certainly deposited there ... All the lores, arts, 
wealth of scriptures, and the Vedas are truthfully well-arranged there ... Brahmanas who resort to the foot of that 
mountain are called by me after the deluge and I make them study the Vedas and make collections thereof ... 

Skanda Pur ana 


February 2000, south India 

Since 5 a.m., Santha and I had been climbing the winding track towards the rocky 800 
metre summit of Arunachela, the sacred mountain of Tamil Nadu. It was now just after 6 
a.m. and dawn had not yet broken. Except for the sound of our footfalls and distant 
cockcrows, everything was silent, everything still. Then we rounded a corner and the 
streetlights of Tiruvannamalai, the burgeoning town that clusters at the foot of the 
mountain, came suddenly into view beneath us. In its midst, due east of us, there lay a 
huge geometrical pool of deep darkness and shadow, like a giant doorway to another 
world. This place, where no lights yet burned, marked the precincts of Arunacheleswar, 

one of the five most important temples of Siva in all of India. 1 We found a ledge of rock 
to sit on and waited for the sun to rise ... 

After being drawn in by the charisma and magnetism of the ‘proto-Siva’ figure on the 
Mohenjodaro seal I began to realize that Siva is everywhere in India. Even in Dwarka, 
with its all-pervasive cult of Krishna, there is also a beautiful Siva temple. Yet the 
devotees of the yogic god are most numerous and most demonstrative in the south, 
amongst the Dravidian-speaking peoples of Tamil Nadu, and Tiruvannamalai is one of 
the true centres of his cult. 

Very little in Hinduism is straightforward or exactly what it seems: identities change 
and merge, contradictions abound, one thing stands for another, gods may manifest in 
different ways at the same time, ambiguity is everywhere. All this is there in the ancient 
story of Siva’s great temple at Arunachela: 

The Supreme Being, the Ocean of Grace, Lord Siva once had a desire - ‘Let me become many.’ In accordance with 
this desire, Brahma and Vishnu came into existence spontaneously. They were delegated the duty of creating the 
worlds and protecting them. However, instead of merely carrying out the duty ordained by the Lord, they were 
caught up in an argument out of egoism which resulted in a major conflict. Seeing the terrible rage they had fallen 
into while battling with each other, the Lord of Compassion deemed it fit to reveal Himself in a form that would 
put an end to their fighting.* 


Tiruv.mriiimjl.il* 


Madurai 


INDIAN OCEAN 


To cut a long story short, Siva revealed himself on the spot where Arunachela now 
stands in the form of a limitless column of blazing light and scorching fire piercing the 
sky and pervading the universe. On seeing this dazzling and fearsome vision Brahma 
and Vishnu were not humbled but entered into a new competition to discover ‘either the 

beginning or the end’ of the column. 3 Only when both had proved themselves incapable 

of doing so did Siva at last emerge from the effulgence. 

There are a few other twists and turns in the story, but the upshot is that Siva forgives 
Brahma and Vishnu for their contentions, telling them: ‘Carry on vigilantly with your 

work of creation and sustenance without forgetting me.’ 5 He then announces that the 
effulgent column will remain eternally manifest on this spot in the form of a mountain 
of fire: 

My Effulgent form will shine here forever as eternal, immutable Arunachela. Oceans will not submerge it even at the 
time of the great Deluge. The winds will not shake it and the world-destroying fire will not burn it. 

On hearing these words Brahma and Vishnu humbly bowed down to Siva and prayed: ‘Sustainer of the Universe! 
Let this Hill be the mainstay of the world as stated by you. But moderate its Effulgence, O Rudra, so that it becomes 
bearable, yet retains its boundless glory and remains a repository of everything auspicious.’ 6 

In answer to Brahma and Vishnu’s prayers, ‘Siva reduced the blinding effulgence of his 
shining appearance in the column by transforming himself into this lacklustre 

mountain’ 7 - the ‘Red Hill’ of Arunachela, of which it is said: ‘Just as we identify 
ourselves with our body, Lord Siva identifies himself with this Hill where the reddish 

colour of the rocks suggests the primeval fire.’ 8 In addition Brahma and Vishnu 
beseeched Siva: 

Although this Red Hill exists for the welfare of all, none could worship it without your grace ... [Therefore] we 
request you also to take the form of a Lingam on the East side of the Mountain so that we may worship you ... 9 

Again Shiva complied and a miraculous column of stone - the Sivalinga, or phallic 
symbol of Siva - appeared at the foot of the mountain on its eastern side. As a token of 
gratitude Brahma and Vishnu commanded Visvakarma, the architect of the gods, to erect 




a temple around it - the primordial temple of Arunacheleswar. 

The temple that now stands on the site is of more recent origin. But believers 
maintain that it is the original natural stone lingam, ‘self-generated’ at the beginning of 
time, that still resides in the Holy of Holies and continues to be venerated by millions of 

pilgrims as the sign and the seal of Siva’s presence on earth . 10 


Austerities 

We watched the sun come up in the south-east, illuminating first the nine pyramidal 
gopurams that surround the temple complex and then the deeper shadows in the 
interested rectangles of its plazas, ambulatories and shrines. As the town’s streetlights 
faded out in the rising glare of the day we could see that beyond the temple was a plain 
extending to the horizon in a great arc beneath us, its flatness broken here and there by 
isolated conical hills. 

We resumed our climb of Arunachela. Although it is not particularly high, the way is 
steep and the winding path is long. After another hour had passed we still seemed to be 
nowhere near the summit, the sun was much hotter, and I was beginning to regret 
bringing only one bottle of water. Santha and I paused to take a swig each, looking 
down the way we had come to the distant towers of Arunacheleswar. Rising out of the 
morning haze the temple possessed an epic, otherworldly quality and it was not difficult 
to imagine it in the way that the ancient traditions describe it - as the work of the gods 
themselves, built at the dawn of the present cycle of time. 

We started climbing again and when we next looked up we saw a lean but muscular 
young man, with the long tangled hair, ash-smeared forehead and orange loin-cloth of a 
sadhu, sitting cross-legged on a rock on the slope above us. He seemed oblivious to our 
presence but when Santha said good morning to him in Tamil his reply was friendly 
enough. 

We passed him and continued to climb. When I glanced back a few moments later I 
saw that he was no longer seated on the rock but following immediately behind, 
barefooted and silent. Now, effortlessly, he increased his pace and overtook us and soon 
he had disappeared round a twist in the path ahead, shielded from us by piles of fallen 
boulders. 

I guessed that he must be one of the devotees of Narayana Swami, the almost 
legendary figure I was hoping to encounter, who was reputed to have remained near the 
summit of Arunachela for the previous ten years, consuming no solid food of any kind 
and subsisting exclusively on small quantities of milk and tea brought to him by his 
acolytes. 

By the performance of such austerities [tapas], which may range from relatively 
pleasant tasks like prolonged sexual intercourse without ejaculation to relatively 
unpleasant ones like holding one’s arm permanently above one’s head for decades, 
great yogis like Narayana Swami are believed to build up a special power of 


supernatural ‘heat’: 


The basic transformation brought about by the Rishi in his performance of tapas is the production of heat in the 
body. The fire of his tapas becomes such that it is transformed into Fire itself, burning the worlds with his heat and 
illuminating them with the light that radiates from his body ... Powers of becoming invisible, walking on water and 
flying through the air are among those most frequently said to be obtained by performing tapas-, while in the Yoga- 
sutras, a large number of such powers are listed as being attained through the practice of yoga - including, in 
addition to such ‘physical’ powers, various types of mental knowledge such as of previous existences and of the 
thoughts of others ... 11 

The intense physical and mental discipline that tapas requires is also an essential step 
on the road to liberation from death. Thus, through their fearsome austerities, the Seven 
Rishis of the Vedas were said to have possessed 

powers of rejuvenation, of curing illnesses, and of restoring the dead to life ... One of the aims of the Rsis in 
performing tapas was to attain to the realm of the immortals and to obtain immortality - even as it is said that the 
gods and demons themselves performed tapas in order to escape death. 

John E. Mitchiner, the expert on the traditions of the Seven Rishis, admits that ‘such 
powers are indeed attributed to the Rsis throughout Indian literature ’. 13 

But the question is why? Why the consistent association, throughout history, of great 
rishis with these extraordinary powers, and why do they always use the same means - 
yoga, austerity, meditation - in order to develop them? Is it all just imagination and 
fantasy on the part of the ancient storytellers? Or is it possible that something 
substantial lies behind these traditions? 

I did not expect Narayana Swami to tell me the answer but I was nevertheless curious 
to set eyes on anyone who could live on tea and milk at the top of a mountain for ten 
years. I was also intrigued by the way that his presence there appeared to symbolize or 
bear out another tradition, recorded in a Tamil text known as the Arunachela 
Mahamatmyam (‘Glory of Arunachela’) to the effect that Siva himself always sits beneath 
a tree near the summit of the mountain in the guise of a siddha: 

Siva abides here forever as a siddha known as Arunagiri Yogi, wearing only a loin-cloth and with matted locks and 
forehead shining with marks of vibhuti. [sacred ash ]. 14 

Because I had gradually acclimatized myself to such material over many months, I 
now had no difficulty in understanding how Siva could, at one and the same instant, be 
a phallic stone column in the Holy of Holies of the temple at the foot of the mountain, 
an ascetic meditating under a tree at the top of the mountain, and the mountain itself - 
for it is said that ‘unlike other mountains, which have become holy because the Lord 

dwells in them [e.g. Kailas in the Himalayas], Arunachela is Lord Siva himself ’. 1 


Mainstay of the world 


In the north Indian tradition of the flood we hear that Manu and the Seven Sages took 
refuge in the Himalayas and that it was from there that they spread out to re-establish 
agriculture and to repromulgate the Vedas in the ‘Land of the Seven Rivers’ between the 
Indus and the Ganges. For south India, a Tamil tradition recorded in the Skanda Purana 
assigns the same role - as a place of refuge from the flood and as a centre of subsequent 
teaching - to Arunachela, forever protected by Siva’s guarantee that ‘oceans will not 

submerge it even at the time of the great deluge’: 16 

The ground near it is not at all touched by the four oceans that become agitated at the close of the Yuga and that 
have the extremities of the worlds submerged in them ... When the annihilation of all living beings takes place, 
when all created things are reabsorbed ... all the future seeds are certainly deposited there ... All the lores, arts, 
wealth of scriptures, and the Vedas are truthfully well-arranged there ... Brahmanas who resort to the foot of that 
mountain are called by me after the deluge and I make them study the Vedas and make collections thereof ... Sages 
of well-praised holy observances and rites, who abide within the caves of that mountain, shine with their matted 
hair. They have the refulgence of 100,000 suns and fires ... 17 

The Puranas also tell us that the Seven Sages (normally associated with the post¬ 
diluvial preservation of the Vedas in the Himalayas) were amongst those who visited 

Arunachela. 18 And it was undoubtedly the case, I reflected, as Santha and I continued 
our climb - passing now through a zone of cooling mist and then entering a dark defile 
- that this red-granite mountain, which in fact belongs to one of the oldest exposed rock 

formations on earth, 19 would never have been flooded during the post-glacial meltdown. 
Even during the worst events, the great tidal waves would not have reached this far 
inland or this high. 

So Arunachela might well have been perceived as a solid and reliable ‘mainstay of the 
world’ in a time of rapidly and unpredictably rising sea-levels around the coasts of 
southern India. How interesting, therefore, that it was remembered, like the Himalayas 
in the distant north, as a place where ‘all the future seeds’ were deposited for the later 
benefit of mankind, and as a refuge for sages where the ancient wisdoms of the Vedas 
were kept safe and from whence they were later repromulgated. 


Master of all wisdom 

Siva is a god of many dimensions and he has been present in India - all of India - for a 
very long while. We’ve seen that his form as a meditating sadhu, lean, naked, powerful, 
the Lord of Yoga, goes back at the very least to the Pasupati seals of Indus-Sarasvati 
times, 4700 years ago. The same is true of his manifestation as a phallic cone or column 

of stone - many examples of which have been excavated in Indus-Sarasvati sites. He is 
also one of the primeval gods of the Rig Veda, where he is known as Rudra. It is in 
recognition of this ancestry that the names Siva and Rudra are used interchangeably (or 

jointly as ‘Rudra-Siva’) in many ancient Indian scriptures. 21 And Rudra is addressed as 


follows in the Yajur Veda: ‘Thou art Siva [gracious, kind] by name.’ 22 

Like Siva, Rudra is both terrifying and reassuring. 2 He is said to have ‘two natures or 
two “names”: the one, cruel and wild (rudra), the other kind (siva) and tranquil 

(santaj 24 

Like Siva, Rudra is the ‘dweller in the mountain’, 25 ‘the blue throated one’, 26 and 
‘Tryambaka’ (‘the three-eyed’). 2 Like Siva, Rudra of the Vedas has a fair or white 
complexion 28 (but is also sometimes described as ‘red’ 29 ), and is a great Yogi and the 
Lord of Animals. Like Siva, Rudra has long, braided and/or matted hair, and healing 

powers. 31 Like Siva, Rudra is associated with fire. And like Siva, Rudra’s symbol in 
later Vedic tradition is sthanu, ‘a post’ or ‘a pillar’ signifying ‘the timeless, motionless 

state of samadhi in which the Lord of Yoga dwells’. 33 

But above and beyond any of this, the true defining characteristic of Rudra-Siva is as 
the God of all Knowledge and of insight and inner wisdom ( jnana - gnosis). This is why 
we read, in Book VIII of the Rig Veda: ‘That mind of Rudra, fresh and strong, moves 

conscious in the ancient ways.’ 34 

This is why Siva is frequently portrayed in Hindu religious art as Jnana- 
Dakshinamurti, Master of all Wisdom, ‘sitting under a tree on Mount Kailasa with his 

foot on a dwarf who symbolizes human ignorance’. 35 


The highest knowledge to the most humble 

The particular nature of Rudra-Siva as the God of Knowledge in the form of a powerful 
rishi with unkempt hair who lives in mountains and wild places is connected to a subtle 
and complex system of ideas which, even if one does not agree with it, must be admitted 
to be extremely well thought-out and (in view of the Mohenjodaro seal) extremely 
ancient. Ultimately, it seems to state that enlightenment, and true knowledge, cannot 
be attained without becoming the master of one’s impulses and renouncing the lures of 
the material world - or at any rate one’s ‘attachment’ to it. Conversely, a person’s 
material wealth and physical beauty can tell us nothing useful about that person’s mind 
and soul. It is to drive this point home, perhaps, that when the gods come to seek advice 
from Siva they find him ‘accompanied by myriads of devoted followers, all of them 

naked, all deformed, with tangled curly hair’. 36 

Likewise the Orientalist Alain Danielou observes that: 

Already the Vedas picture Rudra as living in the forests and mountains, ruling over animals tamed and wild. The 
Saiva mythology shows him as the divinity of life, the guardian of the earth, who wanders naked through rich 
forests, lustful and strong. He teaches the highest and most secret knowledge to the most humble. 0 

The idea that true wisdom does not clothe itself in finery is also conveyed in another 


story of Brahma, Vishnu and Siva, where Brahma and Vishnu are once again contending 
as to which one of them is the supreme being: 

Thus Vishnu and Brahma disputed, and at length they agreed to allow the matter to be decided by the Vedas. The 
Vedas declared that Siva was the creator, preserver, destroyer. Having heard these words, Vishnu and Brahma, still 
bewildered by the darkness of delusion, said, ‘How can the lord of goblins, the delighter in graveyards, the naked 
devotee covered with ashes, haggard in appearance, wearing twisted locks ornamented with snakes, be the supreme 
being?’ 38 

The answer, since Rudra-Siva is in fact the supreme being, is that he can take any 
form he chooses. And it is his choice that leads him to smear himself with ashes and 
consort with the poor and humble who are pure in spirit. According to Professor Stella 
Kamrisch: 

He stood apart and was an outsider to other Vedic gods. He could be recognized by his weird, mad looks. He seemed 
poor and uncared for, neglectful of his appearance; the gods despised him, but he intentionally courted dishonour, 
he rejoiced in contempt and disregard, for ‘he who is despised lies happy, freed of all attachment’. The fierce, self- 
humiliated Lord was a yogi ... He provoked contempt as a test of his detachment. 

So there is an idea here, a fairly consistent idea - perhaps it is better to say a system 
of ideas - behind the conception of Rudra-Siva as the God of Knowledge. Whatever 
knowledge and powers he possesses have been acquired through meditation, austerity 
and self-sacrifice - practices that are likely to have been part of a wider curriculum. And 
the same is true, unconditionally, of the Seven Rishis of the Vedas. They also, John 
Mitchiner observes, 

smother their bodies with ashes, and have their hair uncut, matted and tied in a knot: in other words they are 
depicted as being in appearance much as many other - especially Saiva - ascetics. 40 

There is even a tradition in the Bhagvata Purana that the greatest sages ‘range over the 
world in the guise of mad persons’ whilst imparting wisdom. 41 

At the very least the lesson of this is that it is worth showing respect and listening 
carefully to the words of any person. Appearances can be deceptive and you never 
know who you’re dealing with. 

In such a spirit I hoisted my weary body up the last few metres of Arunachela’s 
crumbling granite scree and on to the muddy path overlooked by sloping rocks that led 
to Narayana Swami’s mountain-top lair. 


Tea and prayers 

The rishi did not occupy the summit of the mountain - he would have been roasted by 
the sacred fire that is lit there every December to mark the apotheosis of Siva as a 
column of flame - but had set up his hermitage in a tree-lined bower that lay off to one 


side a few minutes’ walk below the summit. He was attended by the young man who 
had passed us earlier on our climb, and four other Siva ascetics (Sivachariars) clad in 
orange rags, who now peered down from the rocks and greeted us from either side of 
the muddy path. 

Suddenly, as soon as we’d arrived, we found ourselves in the middle of some sort of 
ceremony or routine. The young acolytes indicated that we should take off our shoes - 
because we were now approaching holy ground - and beckoned to us to accompany 
them down a little incline to the edge of the bower where Narayana Swami had 
presumably been sitting for the past ten years. In the shady gloom, buzzing with 
enormous hornets, we could just make out a little half-tent, like a refugee lean-to 
covered in plastic, underneath the overgrowing branches of the trees. 

We never actually did get to see the rishi, this embodiment of Siva, face to face, let 
alone speak to him. He didn’t speak to anyone, at least not in any known language, 
although he did mumble and grunt incoherently to his followers from time to time and 
they seemed to understand. The most we saw was a thin but strong arm with leathery 
skin reaching out sometimes, and a bony finger making patterns in the mud in front of 
the little plastic tent - and there was a great deal of mud around the rishi’s bower and 
pools of water lying in the hollows of the rocks. 

Next we had to sit down in the mud and the acolytes brought us dirty half-coconut 
shells of what they announced to be tea that had been blessed by the rishi Into this tea, 
which was lukewarm, they melted finger-sized dollops of butter and asked us to drink. 
We did so, with some trepidation (I was thinking amoebas, right from the start). Then 
there were prayers, reminding us that the tea had been blessed and that it would make 
us well in our bodies. Then more tea and more prayers. Then we were brought a cold, 
but somehow greasy, herbal drink with leaves floating in it - also blessed by the rishi 
We drank it. More prayers followed, and more tea with butter and intestinal parasites. 

After that one of the acolytes beckoned to us to line up behind him and led us in a 
clockwise direction on a brisk walking circuit (with each circuit requiring only twenty or 
thirty seconds to complete) of the path that runs around the inside of the bower and in 
front of Narayana Swami’s shelter. There we knelt down in the mud and sacred ash was 
placed on our foreheads. Then we completed a few more circuits chanting as we went 
‘Siva, Siva, Siva, Raga Ra, Raga Ra’ - or something like that. 

It was very strange. We didn’t ask for the ceremony and - most unusually in India - 
no money was required of us for participating in it. 


Arunachela and Kumari Random 

Was Narayana Swami genuinely mad, I wondered, as we made our way down 
Arunachela that afternoon. Or was he one of those great rishis, lit with the inner fire of 
tapas, said to roam the world disguised as a madman whilst imparting knowledge? To 
believe him to be wise if he was in fact mad would be the height of gullibility, but to 



believe him to be mad if he was in fact wise might be an even bigger mistake. Besides, 
whatever he was, his presence testified to the continuing vitality of the pan-Indian 
tradition that mountains such as this one had served as centres for the collection and 
repromulgation of the Vedas after the flood and as places where a brotherhood of 
ascetics preserved antediluvian knowledge that would be used to plant ‘the seeds of the 
future’. 

Setting aside for a moment its connection with Rudra-Siva, the Yogic god of wisdom, I 
felt that I needed more information on this ‘flood’ aspect of the Arunachela story. 
Specifically, I wanted to find out if was connected in any way to the mysterious lost 
land called Kumari Kandam that was said to have been swallowed up by the sea around 
south India thousands of years before. By the time Santha and I reached Tiruvannamalai 
in February 2000 I was already familiar with some details of this tradition - which is 
widely known amongst India’s 200 million Tamils but almost unheard-of outside India. I 
now hoped to learn more from a Tamil pundit whom I had arranged to meet after our 
climb. A retired ship’s captain who had given himself over to the life of contemplation, 
he now resided permanently at the Ashram of Sri Ramana Maharishi, which is 
positioned at the foot of Arunachela about 2 kilometres from the Arunacheles-war 
temple. 


A loin-cloth , a water-pot and a walking stick 

Maharishi means ‘great rishi’ and Sri Ramana seems in every way to qualify for this title. 
Like Naryana Swami, he had at one stage of his life exposed himself for several years on 
the slopes of Arunachela after first arriving there in 1896. At the time, it is recorded, Sri 
Ramana 

was completely oblivious to his body and the world; insects chewed away portions of his legs, his body wasted 
away because he was rarely conscious enough to eat, and his hair and fingernails grew to unmanageable lengths. 

This fugue had been brought on by a flash of spiritual insight that the real nature of 

the human creature is ‘formless, immanent consciousness’. After two or three years in 
this state Sri Ramana ‘began a slow return to physical normality, a process that was not 

finally completed for several years’. 4 " 1 During this period followers began to gather 
about him and by the time of his death in 1950 

he was widely regarded as India’s most popular and revered holy man ... He made himself available to visitors 
twenty-four hours a day by living and sleeping in a communal hall which was always accessible to everyone, and his 
only private possessions were a loin-cloth, a water-pot and a walking stick. 45 

Since Sri Ramana’s death his Ashram has continued to attract devotees and is a 
thriving, busy place today with a good library, extensive offices, private and communal 
accommodation, a canteen and a beautiful prayer hall. The pundit I had come to meet, 
Captain A. Naryan (no relation to Naryana Swami), was a tall, heavy-set moustachioed 


man in his early seventies, who explained to me that he was no great scholar, but that 
he had a personal interest in Tamil traditions which he had been able to pursue since his 
retirement, and that he hoped his small knowledge might provide me with a few clues 
for my search. ‘Everyone calls me Captain,’ he said, when I asked how I should address 
him. 


As old as the hills 

We began by talking through the story of Arunachela and how it was said that the 
mountain would never be submerged or swept away - even by the waters of the great 
deluge at the end of a world age. ‘So we may assume that this has been the case in the 
past?’ I was half asking, half affirming ‘because there is a destruction at the end of each 
cycle of yugas, so somehow Arunachela has remained constant throughout all of this?’ 

The Captain nodded sagely. 

‘So it is the centre of everything,’ I continued. ‘Now the area which I’m trying to 
explore is the borderland between history and what comes before history. And we know 
that, historically, the temple here at Arunachela, there are documents which speak of its 
construction, and probably the temple as we see it now, most of it is less than 1000 
years old and some parts may go back closer to 2000 years old, but at the heart of it is 
the Sivalingam, which is said to be much older. Can you tell me a bit about that lingam 
- which is supposed to be “self-created”? What does this mean?’ 

‘ “Self-created”,’ replied Narayan, ‘means it is not chiselled by man in the way that 
other lingas are chiselled by man. But there are certain other lingas which come out of 
the earth, not made by man, but which conform to all the characteristics - like the 
proportion, the width, the circumference and the height. So just like a man-made 
Sivalinga it conforms to the correct proportions.’ 

‘So it would look like a man-made one, but it’s not?’ 

‘It is not!’ affirmed the Captain. ‘It is more perfect. And it must be as old as 
Arunachela itself. Because as the Purana says, when the primal gods were beseeching the 
supreme being: “Since the mortals cannot see you in your effulgence form, you should 
take the form of a lacklustre hill. Even if you assume the form of a lacklustre hill, only 
the clouds can anoint you and only the sun and the moon can be the lamps lit for you. 
But we have to do puja [prayers, offerings] before you so you should assume the form of 
a smaller lingam.” So Arunachela granted their wish and he told them I will appear in 
the form of a lingam and you may worship me ...’ 

‘And that is the lingam that’s in the temple?’ 

‘That is the lingam.’ 

‘OK, fair enough. A naturally formed lingam that’s literally as old as the hills. But at 
some point human beings must have found it, begun to treat it as a cult object, and built 
some sort of structure around it. What I’m trying to get at is when did the anointing and 



worship of this naturally formed lingam begin? It’s presumably much earlier than the 
date of construction of the temple that’s standing on the site today?’ 

‘Yes. Yes, naturally. What the Puranas say is that gods came here and they were the 
first to build a temple around the self-generated lingam of the Lord. That’s what the 
Puranas say. The primal gods Brahma and Vishnu built the temple, and cities were 
created by the heavenly builder Visvakarma around this place, around Arunachela.’ 


Cities of the gods 

I was already familiar with the origin myth of Arunachela as it is told in the Tamil 

Puranas 46 and knew that it was like many other tales from around the world of cities 

and temples built by gods/ Frequently - as in the case of the Edfu Building Texts of 
ancient Egypt, for example - such traditions tell us that the gods embarked on these 
works of construction at carefully chosen locations on earth in the aftermath of a global 

cataclysm, typically a flood. 48 This is not what the Puranas say about the temples and 
cities supposedly built around Arunachela by the gods; nevertheless the central motif of 
the story is the eternal endurance of the Red Hill through the cataclysms that 
accompany the end of world ages, and it is specifically stated: ‘Oceans will not 

submerge it, even at the time of the great deluge.’ 49 So it was here that I wondered if 
there might be some crossover with the Kumari Kandam myth. 

‘This memory of gods building the first temple and cities at Arunachela,’ I now asked, 
‘what period do you think it originates in? If those cities are supposed to have been built 
at the same time as the formation of the mountain and the self-generated lingam, then 
that’s surely an awfully long time ago. 

‘Geology says it must have been 3. 5 billion or 2.5 billion years ago that Arunachela 
first took its form as a mountain. But such a time-span seems outside any reasonable 
scale for the construction of cities and temples, since we know that the human race only 
came into being, what is it, 100,000 or 200,000 years ago? No “memory” of ours can be 
older than that. 

‘But if they’re to be placed in the human scale, if they’re not just something that’s 
been made up by stortytellers, then shouldn’t archaeologists be able to find at least some 
traces of these former cities of the gods?’ 

The Captain shrugged. ‘Probably during the previous destructions of the world their 
remains have been hidden from us and if we could search sufficiently widely probably 
we could find many cities below the surface of the earth.’ 

He seemed to reflect for a moment. ‘You see,’ he said at last, ‘Arunachela is in the 
land of the Dravidians, where our language goes back more than 10,000 years.’ 

He then told me that the Red Hill was referred to in the most ancient surviving work 
of Tamil literature, the Tolkappiyam, which itself makes reference to an even earlier 


work now lost to history which in turn had supposedly been part of a library of archaic 
texts, all now also vanished, the compilation of which was said to have begun more than 
10,000 years previously. This had been the library of the legendary First Sangam - or 
‘Academy’ - of the lost Tamil civilization of Kumari Kandam, swallowed up, as Captain 
Narayan put it, ‘by a major eruption of the sea’. 

And one of the members of the First Sangam, he added, finally making the direct 

connection that I suspected to the Arunachela story, had been Siva himself, 51 the god in 
the mountain, the god of yoga performing tapas beneath a tree at the top of the 
mountain, the god of cosmic knowledge compressed into the lingam at the foot of the 
mountain. 


Academies of the gods 

As Captain Naryan walked us to the gate of the Sri Ramana Ashram later that 
afternoon, he gave me the name and telephone number of a friend who he hoped might 
be useful to me in the city of Madurai, the next great centre of the cult of Siva that we 
intended to visit in south India. There, he told me, there were knowledgeable professors 
at many colleges and universities - for Madurai has been always been a place of 
scholarship and learning - who would certainly be able to tell me much more about 
Kumari Kandam and the Sangam tradition. Nor could there be any more appropriate 
place to mount such an inquiry, since Madurai itself was an important part of the 
Sangam tradition - having served as the headquarters of the Third Sangam ... 

‘So let me see if I’ve got this right,’ I asked in parting. ‘We have a First Sangam 
thousands of years ago and it gets flooded - the city which it’s in gets flooded?’ 

‘You are right. Permanently flooded. It was overwhelmed by the sea.’ 

‘And that city was?’ 

‘It was called Tenmadurai - which means “Southern Madurai”. It was in the southern 
part of Kumari Kandam. After it was gone, a city called Kapatapuram that lay further to 
the north was chosen as the headquarters of the Second Sangam. It endured for some 
thousands of years but ultimately it too was flooded. Our oldest surviving text, the 
Tolkappiyam, is a work of the Second Sangam.’ 

‘And then?’ 

‘Finally, when Kumari Kandam had entirely gone beneath the sea, the Third Sangam 
was established in the city of Madurai. Then it was called Uttara Madurai, “Northern 
Madurai”.’ 


Lingam or omphalos? 

Before we left Tiruvannamalai we visited the Arunachelswar temple in order to see Lord 
Siva in his lingam form. 


Walking barefoot through the ambulatories and open stone-paved plazas, we passed 
rows of poor, homeless and hungry people, for the most part dressed in rags - here a 
mother with sunken breasts trying to suckle her child, there an old blind man, here a 
cripple, there a leper - waiting patiently for the charity soup kitchen to feed them. 

If we looked up we could see the rugged red peak of Arunachela looming above us, 
framed by the tall towers of the gopurams that marked the main entrances of each of the 
temple’s internested rectangular zones. Their steep pyramidal form, and their general 
arrangement in opposing pairs around a geometrical central plaza, as well as the scale 
of the whole enterprise, reminded me forcefully of the Mayan city of Tikal in 
Guatemala, and of Angkor Thorn and Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Indeed, in general, it 
has for a long while struck me as worthy of note that so many of the world’s ancient 
places of worship - in Europe, Egypt, Israel, Mesopotamia, India, south-east Asia, 
China, Japan, Central America and the Andes, for example - have assertively 
geometrical designs and architecture. What is this recurrent association of geometry 
with the religious quest? Certainly, it seems that there were many great thinkers in 
antiquity who, if asked ‘What is God?’, might well have replied, as St Bernard of 

Clairvaux did to the same question, ‘He is length, width, height and depth.’ 52 

Because all Hindu temples are part circus, we encountered a painted elephant 
surveying the world through a jaundiced eye, chained up in a stone pillared pavilion, 
and when we descended the steps to the sacred pool, known as Siva-ganga Teertham we 
were followed by a persistent fortune-teller who could only with great difficulty be 
persuaded to relinquish what he clearly felt was a fair claim on us. 

Soon after we had shaken him off (not until Santha had relented and agreed to have 
her fortune told for 100 rupees) we were appropriated by a beautiful doe-eyed young 
man in flowing white robes who floated up to us declaring himself to be a Brahmin and 
the son of a senior priest of the temple. As though reading our thoughts he then led us 
towards the sanctuary where the ‘self-generated’ lingam of Siva resides, explaining as he 
did so that it was normally out of bounds to non-Hindus, but that we had happily 
chanced, in his person, upon just the man to get us inside. The only thing we would not 
be allowed to do, he said, was touch the lingam - a privilege that was reserved for 
initiated Sivachariars. 

I have been offered illegal access to inaccessible areas in many temples around the 
world, and the young Brahmin’s patter was so familiar that I could already almost count 
the 100 rupee notes changing hands. Still, we followed him through a maze of crowded 
rooms and hallways, visited various subsidiary shrines where we were fed puffed rice 
and sugar, had our foreheads liberally smeared with ash, and jumped a queue of 
worshippers at the entrance to the principal sanctuary. Then suddenly, for just a few 
moments, we were in the presence of the natural pillar or cylinder of stone that is 
venerated by the faithful as the eternal manifestation of Siva himself. The pillar, 
however, was so decked out with finery, robes, jewellery and an elaborate head-dress in 
the form of a rearing golden cobra hood that it was impossible to get a clear glimpse of 


any part of it. All that I can say is that it seemed to be less than half a metre thick and 
approximately 1.5 metres high and was rounded like a cigar-tube at the tip - very much, 
in other words, like ‘unclothed’ Sivalinga that can be seen in temples and shrines all 
around India. 

So what was special about this one? 

As he took my money, the Brahmin could only repeat the old mantras - that it is a 
wonder of nature wrought by the power of Siva, that it is ancient and nobody knows 
how old it is, and that the first temple to be built around it was the work of the gods. 


The numbers of time and the world grid 

In previous books I have grappled several times with the hypothesis that the earth and 
all its oceans may have been explored, mapped and accurately measured with lines of 
latitude and longitude - a pre-eminently ‘civilized’ and sophisticated activity - 

thousands of years before what we now think of as history began. 53 I want to avoid the 
tedious repetition of evidence and arguments that I have already presented in 
Fingerprints of the Gods and Heaven’s Mirror, but, in summary, the problem is this: certain 
medieval and Renaissance maps seem to express sophisticated geographical and 
cartographic knowledge far ahead of the science of their age. A number of researchers 
attribute this knowledge to older source documents that have not come down to us. In 
his Maps of the Ancient Sea Kings, for example, Charles Hapgood draws attention to the 
accurate longitudes on the so-called ‘portolano’ charts of the fourteenth century (400 
years before the invention of Harrison’s Chronometer supposedly made the accurate 
measurement of longitude at sea feasible for the first time). Hapgood believes that the 
anachronism may be explained by the survival of ancient cartographical knowledge 
(either in the form of maps copied and recopied again and again down the generations, 
or in the form of oral traditions retained and passed on amongst mariners) that 
originated with a highly advanced, sophisticated and as yet unidentified seafaring 
civilization of prehistory. He makes the same argument for the appearance of Antarctica 
on the Oronteus Finnaeus map of 1539 (some 300 years before Antarctica is believed to 

have been ‘discovered’). 54 

Evidence that provides some tangential support for the general thrust of Hapgood’s 
theory comes from a large sequence of numbers - including 18, 36, 72, 144, 2160, 4320, 
25,920, etc. - that appears repeatedly and prominently in ancient myths, scriptures and 

traditions from all around the world. 5 According to the late Professor Giorgio de 
Santillana of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Professor Hertha von 
Dechend of Frankfurt University, these ubiquitous numbers derive from an archaic 
astronomical tradition which used shared, globally diffused conventions to record its 
observations of the stars. The central symbol of the system depicts a great wheel that 
rotates in heaven, ‘churning’ or ‘milling’ for thousands of years. The entire axis, spokes 
and bands that bind this wheel are said to be periodically broken by recurrent 


cataclysms - often flood and fire - at which point a new wheel is forged and the cycle 
begins again. 

Santillana and von Dechend’s explanation for this symbolism and for the numbers 
associated with it is that it is a metaphor for the celestial phenomenon that astronomers 
today call ‘precession’. This is a slow, cyclical wobble of the earth’s axis in space so that, 
if the tip of the north (or south) pole were imaginarily extended it would be seen to 
transcribe a great circle amongst the polar stars over a period of 25,920 years. Though it 
was not thought to have been detected until the time of the Greeks, it is Santillana and 
von Dechend’s radical contention that precession was observed, and measured, 
thousands of years earlier than that by what they describe as ‘some almost unbelievable 

ancestor civilization’. 56 They further claim that it is these same ancient measurements 
(all time measurements) that generate the mysterious numbers in the myths. 

The most notable effect of precession is that it causes a slow, relentless drift of the 
background of stars against which the sun is seen to rise on the spring equinox (21 
March, when night and day are of equal length). This is called ‘the precession of the 
equinoxes’. Although it can be detected by relatively simple observations, these must be 
sustained over several generations before the sequence begins to emerge. 

The ruling number in the sequence, Santillana and von Dechend suggest, is 72 - the 
round number of years required to observe one degree of the precession of the 

equinoxes. 57 This, they say, is why the tally of significant numbers in the myths includes 
72 and multiples of 72 (e.g. 144, 720, 2160, 4320, etc.); 36 (half of 72) and multiples of 
36; 24 (one-third of 72) and multiples of 24, etc. The system also uses other ways of 
combining these numbers - e.g., 72 + 36 = 108, a sacred number in many cultures, 
while half of 108 is 54, also a sacred number, as is 540 or 540,000, or 5,400,000, etc. 

and as are 108,000, 1,800,000, and so on. 

It may be that this powerful number system is not based on the observation of the 
precession of the equinoxes at all and that some explanation other than a lost 
civilization will ultimately be found for it. But what cannot be denied is the simple, well- 
evidenced fact that the system exists - whatever its source - and that it occurs in known 
texts of all the great archaic mythological and religious systems, amongst them ancient 
Sumer and Babylon, Vedic India, ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, ancient China, the 

Maya of Central America, the Old Testament Hebrews and many other cultures. 59 

It was only while I was writing Heaven’s Mirror that I began to look into another and 
much more controversial possibility - that a network of sacred sites might have been 
established all around the globe according to a longitude grid based on precessional 
numbers. Thus, the massive sacred complexes on which stand the Great Pyramids of Giza 
in Egypt and the fabulous temples of Angkor in Cambodia are on meridians 72 degrees 
of longitude apart; Pohnpei is 54 degrees of longitude east of Angkor; Easter Island is 
today the closest dry land to 144 degrees of longitude east of Angkor; the Bay of 
Paracas in Peru, dominated by the massive cliff drawing of unknown origin known as 


the ‘Candelabra of the Andes’, lies 180 degrees east of Angkor. Frequently these sites are 
linked to flood myths, spoken of in ancient traditions as ‘Navels of the Earth’ (omphalos 
in Greek), and are rich in symbolism of obelisks, stone pillars, pyramids and other stone 

monuments. 

All this I was already well aware of during my travels in India in February and March 
2000. Yet I honestly did not expect when I came to Arunachela, despite its obvious and 
prevalent omphalos/lingam symbolism, that it too would prove to be located at a 
meaningful point on the same hypothetical ‘precessional grid’. I only looked it up in the 
longitude tables as a matter of routine. As soon as I did so, however, it was immediately 
obvious that a relationship based on significant precessional numbers does in fact exist 
between Arunachela and other grid sites - for it lies 24 degrees west of Angkor and 48 
degrees east of Giza (respectively one-third and two-thirds of the 72 degrees of longitude 

separating the former from the latter). 61 

Apparent longitudinal ‘correlations’ linking sacred sites according to a sequence of 
numbers thought to have been derived from astronomical observations that occur in 
ancient myths and scriptures could, of course, arise by chance. I don’t deny that 
possibility. But I wish to pursue what I believe to be the more interesting explanation - 
namely that such sites may originally have been established on specific longitudes to act 
as permanent markers and reference points for an archaic worldwide grid of earth 
measurements and to safeguard precious geodetic and navigational knowledge for the 
long-term benefit of mankind. 

This, indeed, is little more than is already claimed in the ancient Indian accounts of 
the deluge, and the survival of it by a remnant of wise men, and their preservation and 
repromulgation of antediluvian knowledge in the new age of the earth. Moreover, it can 
hardly be an accident that the yuga system that lies at the heart of the Dwarka story, of 
the story of the flood of Manu, and of the Hindu concept of recurrent cycles of cataclysm 
and rebirth, is also denominated in terms of precessional numbers. According to the 
Puranas, for example, the duration of the Kali Yuga is set at 1200 ‘divine years’, 
equivalent to 432,000 mortal years. The durations for the preceding Krita, Treta and 
Davapara Yugas are set respectively at 4800 divine years, 3600 divine years and 2400 
divine years, such that one mahayuga - made up of the total of 12,000 divine years 

contained in the four lesser yugas - is equivalent to 4,320,000 years of mortals. 

Whatever the explanation ultimately turns out to be, and whether Santillana and von 
Dechend are basically right or basically wrong, the worldwide distribution of such an 
intricate sequence of numbers, not only in myths but also in architecture (e.g., the 72 
pillars of the Dwarkadish temple), represents a serious problem that orthodox historians 
have so far failed to address. 

If it is not ‘coincidence’, then what is it? 


The riddle of Vishnu’s three steps 


Santha and I treated ourselves to a luxury in south India in February 2000, which we 
would never have dreamed of affording back in 1992. This was a comfortable, creme- 
white, air-conditioned Ambassador limousine (for what was going to turn out to be a 
journey of almost 3000 kilometres) with Palani, a small, wiry ex-army driver from 
Chennai, at the wheel. With his steady nerves and encyclopedic knowledge of the 
highways and byways of Tamil Nadu, he was the best possible guide and friend we could 
have had on such a journey. When I needed a beer in a ‘dry’ town he always knew 
(although never imbibing himself) where to obtain bottles of cold, illicit Kingfisher 
wrapped up in brown paper sacks. And more to the point he put us through no 
collisions, no nerve-jangling skids, no horrific misjudgements of the proximity of a 
pedestrian, no death-defying overtaking manoeuvres, and no falling asleep at the 
wheel. 

From Tiruvannamalai we drove south all day towards Madurai through a rich, green, 
predominantly flat dreamscape of paddy fields and palm trees dotted here and there 
with the weird outcroppings of ancient red granite that are the characteristic feature of 
this region. There were people everywhere, Tamil peasant farmers at work in the fields 
in brightly coloured clothes, or strolling along the road, sometimes drying cattle fodder 
on the road itself, doing hard labour on building sites and eighteen-hour days in wayside 
shops and stalls - a tremendous mass of individual human lives surviving in many cases 
on the very edge of absolute penury yet somehow making do and getting by. It was 
fascinating to realize, and impossible to ignore, that the religion of all these industrious 
people was a peculiarly Saivite brand of Hinduism: 

• Siva ‘the embodiment of knowledge’. 63 

• Siva, the god of wisdom, who rules in ‘the city of knowledge’ (jnana-puri, literally 
‘gnosis city’). 64 

• Siva who takes the form of Arunachela, ‘the mountain of knowledge’. 65 

• Siva who, through initiation into gnosis, has the power to inflict or to withhold 
death and to grant immortality. 66 

In some texts, I had been interested to learn, Siva is identified with Vishnu. In the 
Mahabaratha, for example, there is an episode in which the warrior Arjuna experiences a 
revelation after being wrestled to the ground by a huge stalwart being: 

Arjuna’s limbs were bruised and he was deprived of his senses. When he recovered he hailed the god, saying: ‘Thou 
art Siva in the form of Vishnu and Vishnu in the form of Siva ... O Hari, O Rudra, I bow to thee.’ 67 

In the Rig Veda, Vishnu’s principal exploit, recounted and celebrated again and again, 

is the taking of ‘three steps’. 68 Although it is agreed that these steps must symbolize 
something of profound importance, scholars have as yet reached no consensus as to 

their underlying meaning. 69 


I pulled the Griffith translation of the Rig Veda from the half-open satchel that lay 
perched between Santha and myself on the middle of the back seat and opened it at 
Book I, Hymn 104: 

I will declare the mighty deeds of Vishnu, of him who measured out the earthly regions ... thrice setting down his 
footstep, widely striding. For this mighty deed is Vishnu lauded ... He within whose three wide-extended paces all 
living creatures have their habitation ... Him who alone with triple step hath measured this common dwelling 
place, long, far extended ... 70 

All kinds of symbolism might indeed be intended in such a passage, but if we take the 
hymn at face value, then isn’t it rather clearly saying that Vishnu measured out the 
earth by taking three footsteps? We might speculate on what precisely the footsteps 
represent, but the involvement of the whole enterprise in earth-measuring - i.e., 
geography - cannot reasonably be denied. 

Other passages reinforce the same conclusion, describing Vishnu, for example, as ‘He 
who strode, widely pacing, with three steppings forth over the realms of earth for 

freedom and for life ...’ 71 Two verses later we read that ‘He, like a rounded wheel, hath 

set in swift motion his 90 racing steeds together with the four 2 What could the 
function of this latter verse possibly be if it is not to invite us to multiply 90 by 4, giving 
us the 360 degrees of the circle (or ‘rounded wheel’)? Remember, we have been told just 
beforehand that such an approach to measuring out ‘the realms of earth’ is a 
contribution to the cause of freedom and life - a clear incentive to its preservation! 

In Book 6, Hymn 49 of the Rig we find Vishnu described as ‘He who for man’s behoof 

in his affliction thrice measured out the earthly regions.’ 73 Again, the idea seems to be 
that Vishnu’s earth-measuring endeavours were of great value and benefit to mankind 
and were, moreover, delivered in a time of ‘affliction’. 

Last but not least, in Book I, Hymn 164, we encounter the following riddle: 

Formed with 12 spokes, by length of time, unweakened, rolls round the heaven this wheel of during Order. Herein 
established, joined in pairs together, 720 sons stand ... 74 

So here, represented by a multiple of its ‘ruling’ number 72, pops up Santillana and von 
Dechend’s ancient precessional code combined in the same passage with the familiar 
‘wheel of heaven’ metaphor of the precession of the equinoxes. The passage also 
provides further evidence that the convention still in use by modern geographers of 
dividing the circle into 360 degrees (or 720 half-degrees) was already in existence in 
Vedic times and is directly alluded to in this hymn. Likewise, the 12 spokes of the wheel 
are anachronistically suggestive of the 12 ‘houses’ of the (supposedly Graeco- 
Babylonian) zodiac in which the sun rests for 30 ‘days’ of each precessional month - 
each such month being equivalent to 2160 human years with the entire precessional 

cycle thus amounting to 12 x 2160 = 25,920 human years. 5 


Surviving the null hypothesis 

Could there really be ‘science’, in the hard, empirical, modern sense, in the ancient 
Indian scriptures? 

According to Dr Richard L. Thompson, who received his Ph.D. in mathematics from 
Cornell University, where he specialized in probability theory and statistical mechanics, 
the answer to this question is ‘yes ... probably’! In his impressively researched and 
thoroughly documented study Mysteries of the Sacred Universe Thompson takes a 
particularly close look at the Bhagvata Purana (a later compilation of oral traditions than 
the Rig Veda but one that nevertheless belongs, as we have seen, to the same body of 

knowledge). 6 In it he draws attention to a curious word picture called Bhu Mandala 
that the Parana conjures up and that consists of circles and internested spheres of 
precise, very large, dimensions. He argues that Bhu Mandala is a complex and cleverly 
designed cosmological model serving at one and the same time as an accurate map of 

the solar system and as a planar projection map of the earth. 

Thompson’s arguments must be considered on their own merits backed up by the 
detailed evidence that he sets out in his book. But the centrepiece of his case is the 
electrifying correlation, to which he is the first to draw serious attention, between the 
dimensions given for the various circles of Bhu Mandala in the Bhagvata Parana and the 
actual dimensions of the planetary orbits within the solar system as determined by 

modern science. 5 Since the correlations turn out to be extremely close, Thompson 
concludes: 



The Bhu Mandala shown as a tilted ring in relation to a local horizon on Earth. Based 
on Thompson (2000). 






Saturn 


Uranus 




Orbits of Saturn and Uranus around Earth. 


Comparison of Bbu Mandala's parameters with orbital radiuses of 

Saturn and Uranus 



7928 miles 

Earth's diameter 


890,000,000 miles 

radius of Saturn's orbit 

compare 

1,000,000,000 miles 

inner radius of Bhu Mandala 


1,790,000,000 miles 

radius of orbit of Uranus 

compare - 

2,000,000,000 miles 

outer radius of Bhu Mandala 


It is clear that Bhu Mandala, as described in the Bhagvatam, can be interpreted as a geocentric map of the solar 
system out to Saturn. But an obvious and important question is: Did some real knowledge of planetary distances 
enter into the construction of the Bhu Mandala system, or are the correlations between Bhu Mandala features and 
planetary orbits simply coincidental?' 

Being a mathematician interested in probability theory, Thompson is better equipped 
than most to answer this question and does so through computer modelling of a 
proposed ‘null hypothesis’ - i.e., 

that the author of the Bhagvatam had no access to correct planetary distances and therefore all apparent correlations 
between Bhu Mandala features and planetary distances are simply coincidental. 

However, the Bhu Mandala/solar system correlations proved resilient enough to survive 
the null hypothesis. ‘Analysis shows that the observed correlations are in fact highly 

improbable.’ 81 Thompson concludes: 

If the dimensions given in the Bhagvatam do, in fact, represent realistic planetary distances based on human 
observation, then we must postulate that Bhagvata astronomy preserves material from an earlier and presently 
unknown period of scientific development ... [and that] some people in the past must have had accurate values for 
the dimensions of the planetary orbits. In modern history, this information has only become available since the 
development of high-quality telescopes in the last 200 years. Accurate values of planetary distances were not known 
by Hellenistic astronomers such as Claudius Ptolemy, nor are they found in the medieval Jyotisa Sutras of India. If 




this information was known it must have been acquired by some unknown civilization that flourished in the distant 
past. 82 

Needless to say, a civilization that could make accurate maps of planetary distances, a 
hypothetical civilization of the distant past that had approached to within 200 years of 
our own level of development in astronomy, would have had no great difficulty in 
observing and measuring the precession of the equinoxes, or in dividing up the earthly 
and celestial spheres into degrees of longitude and latitude, or in consecrating a series 
of sacred sites at specific longitudes, and, in the process, exploring and mapping the 
globe. 

Neither do I find it at all difficult to imagine how the geodetic and cartographic works 
of such an elder culture might have been remembered in much later and more 
superstitious times as gifts that had been handed down by the gods. 

Had some stone pillar, now venerated as the self-generated lingam of Siva, been set 
up by prehistoric geodecists at Arunachela, for example, to mark the auspicious 
longitude of the Red Hill? The same symbolism of the lingam is, of course, found all over 
the temples of Angkor in Cambodia. And in ancient Egypt the conical Ben Ben stone, 
perched atop a stone pillar, was the symbol of the Heliopolitan priesthood that built the 
Pyramids of Giza. 

Same symbolism in all three places. 

Same gnostic quest for immortality. 

Same use of precessional numbers in their architecture and their myths. 

And there are 48 degrees of longitude between Giza and Arunachela, 24 degrees 
between Arunachela and Angkor, and 72 degrees between Giza and Angkor. 

Coincidence? 

Design? 

Take your pick. 


Madurai 

A few hours later, well after dark, the Ambassador rolled smoothly across the thin 
membrane that separates rural from urban life in India, and we found ourselves in 
Madurai. As the reader will recall, Captain Naryan had told me that this city, with the 
great Meenakshi temple residing at its heart, was the site of the third and last Sangam, 
or Academy, of Tamil poets and philosophers - an institution that traced its origins back 
to the antediluvian civilization of Kumari Kandam. 

While we drove through the crowded streets blaring with sound and lights I 
remembered that the First Sangam was said to have been established many thousands of 
years ago in an earlier ‘Madurai’ - Tenmadurai - that lay far to the south on lands 
subsequently swallowed up by the sea. 


It is astonishing how little attention has been paid to these Tamil myths, and how 
little has been written about them outside the subcontinent. Even David Schulman, who 
has done more than most to fill this gap in knowledge, is dismissive of the significance 
of the traditions: 

The story of the three Cankam [Sangams] as it appears in our sources is suspect on many counts, and there is no 
geological evidence of any deluge affecting the area in historical times. 83 

Though I respect Dr Schulman’s work, which offers a lucid exposition in English of the 
Tamil flood myths, he is dead wrong to consider only whether deluges have affected the 
area in historical times when massive geological corroboration exists for multiple 
deluges at the end of the last Ice Age - well within the time-frame of more than 10,000 
years that is set out in the Sangam tradition itself. 

Could it be the ruins of Kumari Kandam that are lying in 23 metres of water 5 
kilometres off-shore of Poompuhur? And could those mythical antediluvians remembered 
by the ancient Tamils have been the source of the fragments of high cartographical and 
astronomical knowledge that seem to have been fossilized in the ancient Indian texts? 


11 / The Quest for Kumari Random 


The river Prahuli, and the mountain Kumari, surrounded by many hills, were submerged by the raging sea. 

Silipathikaram xx: 17-20 

With reference to the first two Sangams I may say that the account is too mythical and fabulous to be entitled to any 
credit and I do not think that any scholar who has studied the histories of the world will be bold enough to admit 
such tales within the pale of real history. 

Professor Sesagiri Sastri, Essay on Tamil Literature, Madras 1897 


February 2000-January 2001, south India 

Madurai is an ancient city but it has little to show, other than a few texts of disputed 

antiquity, 1 to back up its claim to have been the headquarters of the third and last of the 
great Tamil Sangams (‘Academies’). It can produce no evidence in support of its further 
claim that the Third Sangam was the direct-line descendant of two earlier Sangams, 
dating back thousands of years into prehistory, located in antediluvian Tamil cities that had 
once existed far to the south of Madurai but that had been swallowed up by the sea. The 
very word ‘Sangam’ turns out not even to be derived from the Tamil language (it is 
Sanskrit) and does not appear in any of the texts that tradition attributes to the Third 

Sangam period. 2 Last but not least, the earliest surviving written account of the so- 

called ‘Sangam Age’ is not thought by scholars to be older than the sixth century ad . 5 

By his use of such arguments the late K. N. Shivaraja Pillai - whose highly regarded 
but rare Chronology of the Early Tamils I was able to consult at a research library in 
Madurai - stands out as the most persuasive opponent of the alluring notion of lost 
Tamil lands and a lost Tamil civilization in the Indian Ocean. He wags an admonishing 
finger at those tempted to wonder if there might be even a drop of the truth anywhere 
in the story of Kumari Kandam and the first two Sangams, and proclaims the whole 
thing to be 

one of the most daring literary forgeries ever perpetrated. The incredibly high antiquity with which Tamil 
literature comes to be invested by this legend, and the high connection with divinity it brings about, were more 
than enough to secure for it a ready acceptance by a credulous public. 4 

The historical annals of most cultures contain examples of this kind of manipulation of 
the past in order to annex some dignity or aura of the divine to a fledgling royal 
dynasty, or to dress up a new cult in a cloak of antique venerability - or, for that 
matter, to render arriviste philosophies or literary works more acceptable to 

traditionalists by attaching them to existing or imagined traditions. 5 It is therefore easy 
to see the force of Pillai’s arguments, and, since he published his Chronology in 1932, his 

view that Kumari Kandam is nothing more than a ‘preposterous story’ 6 has been the 
dominant one amongst serious scholars of Tamil history. 


This, of course, by no means guarantees that his view is correct. On the contrary, as I 
continued my research in Madurai, the potential significance and implications of what 
the NIO had found in 1993 off the south-east coast of Tamil Nadu at Poompuhur began 
to weigh more and more heavily on my mind. 


Lost lands and flooded cities 

From the photographs and descriptions that I had by this time seen and read, everything 
about the U-shaped structure appeared to be strikingly anomalous. Yet equally striking 
was the way in which it had thus far attracted zero attention or interest outside the 
rather closed world of the NIO (which had been unable to do anything further about it 
because of insufficient funding). I found this lack of interest and knowledge to be almost 
unbelievable. 

After all, the fully qualified Indian marine archaeologists who had dived on the 
structure in 1993 had not hesitated in their official report to pronounce it to be man¬ 
made with ‘courses of masonry’ plainly visible - surely a momentous finding 5 
kilometres from the shore at a depth of 23 metres? But far from exciting attention, or 
ruffling any academic feathers, or attracting funds for an extension of the diving survey 
to the other apparently man-made mounds that had been spotted near by on the sea-bed 
- and very far indeed from inspiring any Tamil expert to re-evaluate the derided 
possibility of a factual basis to the Kumari Kandam myth - the NIO’s discovery at 
Poompuhur had simply been ignored by scholarship, not even reacted to or dismissed, 
but just widely and generally ignored. 

All the more I felt it was my role to be proactive and to stir things up around this 
matter. Because if the U-shaped structure was indeed man-made and more than 10,000 
years old (remember at this stage I still did not have Glenn Milne’s inundation maps 
that would later push the age of the ruins back to 11,000 years old or older) then things 
were going to have to change in south Indian history. Despite all the question marks 
that had been raised over it on literary and philological grounds, the myth of Kumari 
Kandam and of the two antediluvian Sangams would suddenly clamour to be taken 
seriously. 

After all, it is one thing for scholars like Shivaraja Pillai, David Schulman and others, 
to belittle the historical significance of a myth for which there seems to be no 
substantiating evidence, but it is quite another to try to sustain such a posture among a 
growing community of scholars and interested members of the public with access to 
inundation data like Milne’s. 



14. The Temple of the Sea Lord, Dwarka, overlooking the underwater rains. 



15. View of Dwarka from the sea. The ruins are directly beneath the small boat. 








16. Marine archaeologists of the NIO atDwarka. 



17. S. R. Rao, the founder of marine archaeology in India. 






18. Technical divers of the NIO entering the water at Dwarka. 






19. Underwater Dwarka, large blocks scattered on the sea-bed. 



20. Circular stone anchor amidst underwater structures, Dwarka. 







21 . Part of a curved bastion, underwater Dwarka. 



22 . Treasure trove of man-made artefacts brought up from two mysterious submerged cities 
discovered in 2001 in India’s Gulf of Cambay. 



23 . Detail of artefacts and human remains from the lost cities in the Gulf of Cambay. 


24 . The author with NIO experts , examining plans of the two deeply submerged cities in the 
Gulf of Cambay thought to be more than 8000 years old. 















25. Pilgrims flocking to a Siva temple on the seashore at Dwarka. 



26. Siva temple, Dwarka. Although Dwarka is sacred to Krishna, the cult of Siva is also 
celebrated there. 

Reproduced here and in chapter 7, the Durham geologist’s maps of south India 
between 17,000 and 7000 years ago have an eerie effect on me. Incorporating Sri Lanka 
in the south-east, extending southward, below Cape Comorin, and enhanced off-shore by 
the enlarged Lacadives/Maldives archipelago running all the way to the equator and 




into the southern hemisphere, the maps portray the region as no culture of the historical 
period is supposed to have known it: yet when I look at them through half-closed eyes I 
can almost imagine that someone has tried to draw, at various stages of its supposedly 
mythical inundation, the much bigger Dravidian homeland of thousands of years ago 
that is described in the Kumari Kandam tradition. 

Coincidence? Or mystery? 

• With its dominant motif of a once much larger Dravidian homeland, the opening of 
the Kumari Kandam flood myth is set in remote prehistory between 12,000 and 
10,000 years ago. 

• The work of Glenn Milne and other inundation specialists confirms that between 
12,000 and 10,000 years ago India’s Dravidian peninsula and its outlying islands 
would indeed have been far larger than they are today - but were in the process of 
being swallowed up by the rising seas at the end of the Ice Age. 

• With its descriptions of flooded cities and lost lands, the Kumari Kandam myth 
‘predicts’ that prehistoric ruins more than 10,000 years old should lie underwater at 
various depths and locations off the Tamil Nadu coast. 

• The NIO’s discovery of a large and apparently man-made structure at a depth of 23 
metres off Poompuhur seems to confirm the accuracy of this prediction. 

If the myth is right about the flooded cities, then what else might it be right about? 

If there is anything at all to the story of the First and Second Sangams orchestrating a 
golden age of literary, artistic and musical creativity amongst the Tamils of 10,000 
years ago and maintaining an archive of written records, then it means not only that an 
as yet unidentified culture of the last Ice Age may have flourished in the lost lands of the 
Indian Ocean, but also that we seem to be dealing with a civilization here that had 
reached a high level of development, organization and self-awareness. 


The teachings of illustrious men 

The sources for all that is known today about Kumari Kandam are limited and it is true, 
as the detractors of the myth point out, that the oldest written version dates from no 
earlier than the sixth century ad - some would even make it as young a document as the 
tenth century ad. Supposedly the work of the renowned medieval commentator Nakirar, 
this version appears in a learned gloss to the Iri yanar Agapporul, a grammar of classic 

Tamil love poetry in sixty sutras. Our concern here is not with the Agapporul, but strictly 
and exclusively with Nakirar’s gloss, which is itself said to have been ‘handed down 

orally for ten generations before it was put into writing’. 8 

Other medieval commentators who support Nakirar by speaking of Kumari Kandam 
and of the first two Sangams not as myths but as historical entities are 


Nachinarkkiniyar, in his gloss to the Tolkappiyam Poniladikaram, the distinguished Per- 
Asiriyar in his commentary upon the Tolkappiyam, and Adiyarkkunelar, in his 

commentary on the Silipathikaram. 

As my research continued in Madurai, therefore, I was not surprised to learn that long 
before something looking very much like underwater ruins had been found off the south¬ 
east coast of India in exactly the depth/age-range that is predicted by the Kumari 
Kandam myth, the credibility lent to the flood and Sangam tradition by the illustrious 
men who passed it down to us had clearly begun to worry some otherwise sceptical 
modern historians: 

Three commentators of no mean scholarship and repute have unreservedly accepted the version of the 
commentator of the Iriyanar Agapporul. Though it is easy to dismiss these valuable works as unhistorical and 
uncritical and hence worthless to students of history, still we cannot afford to credit commentators with such 
ignorance of the subject which they were handling. When they quote with approval it means they were satisfied of 
the veracity of the tradition behind the account. 


The Kumari Kandam tradition (1) 

Although I am (of course!) writing Underworld with the benefit of hindsight, I have 
sought to unfold the key information that it contains in something of the gradual and 
fragmentary manner in which it reached me. Thus I didn’t learn about Kumari Kandam 
and the Sangam tradition all at once - but rather in dribs and drabs over a period of 
many months - and this is reflected in the details that I have already given about 
Kumari Kandam in earlier chapters. 

Now, with all the resources of Madurai at my disposal, I was able to compile a more 
extensive and accurate summary of what the tradition actually says (as opposed to what 
others say about it): 

• Over a period of just under 10,000 years, the Pandyans (a part-historical, part¬ 
legendary dynasty of Tamil kings) formed three Sangams or Academies in order to 
foster among their subjects the love of knowledge, literature and poetry: ‘These 
Assemblies were the fountainhead of Tamil culture, and their principal concern was 

the perfection of Tamil language and literature.’ 11 

• The first two Sangams were not located in what is now peninsular India but in the 
antediluvian Dravidian land to the south ‘which in ancient times bore the name 

Kumari Kandam’ 12 (literally ‘the Land of the Virgin’ - or perhaps ‘the Virgin 

Continent’). 13 

• The First Sangam was headquartered in a city named Tenmadurai (‘Southern 
Madurai’). It had 549 members ‘beginning, with Agattiyanar (the sage Agastaya) ... 
Among others were God Siva of braided hair ... Murugan the hill god, and Kubera 


the Lord of Treasure.’ 14 


• Patronized by a succession of eighty-nine kings, the First Sangam survived as an 
institution over an unbroken period of 4440 years, during which time it approved 
and codified an immense library of poems and literature. These classic texts, all 
now lost and known only by their titles, are said to have included works such as the 
Agattiyam, Paripadal, Mudunarai, Mudukurgu and Kalariyavirai - still well known and 

revered among Tamils today. 15 

• At the end of this golden age the First Sangam was destroyed when the deluge arose 
and Tenmadurai was ‘swallowed by the sea’ along with large parts of the land area 

of Kumari Kandam. 16 

• However, survivors of the antediluvian civilization were able to relocate further 
north, saving some of the First Sangam books, and the Second Sangam, said to have 
been patronized by fifty-nine kings, was established in another city - Kavatapuram. 
‘The Agattiyam and Tolkappiyam, the Mapuranam, Isainunukkam, and Budapuranam 

were their grammars. The duration of the period of this Sangam was 3700 years.’ 17 
Then, like its predecessor, the Second Sangam was ‘swallowed by the sea’ and lost 
for ever with all its works (with the possible exception, some claim, of the 

Tolkappiyam, which has survived to this day). 18 

• Following the inundation of Kavatapuram the survivors of the Kumari Kandam 
civilization again relocated northward, this time into peninsular India, where the 
headquarters of the Third Sangam was established in a city identified with modern 
Madurai - then known as Uttara Madurai or Vadamadurai (‘Northern Madurai’, 
presumably to distinguish it from its antediluvian predecessor ‘Southern 

Madurai’). 19 

• The Third Sangam survived for a further 1850 years: ‘Forty-nine were the kings who 
patronized this Academy.’ 20 


Choosing the right slot 

A matter that I found hard to reconcile while I talked to the experts and read up the 
literature in Madurai was the way in which the very same Tamil authorities who brush 

off the First and Second Sangams as ‘preposterous stories’, 21 accept without demur the 
existence of the Third Sangam - or anyway some sort of genuinely Tamil institution of 
letters that might retrospectively have been referred to by the Sanskrit term Sangam. 
Most, moreover, agree upon dates of between ad 350 and 550 for the termination of this 

Third Sangam’s activities. 22 

For example, Ramachandra Dikshitar proposes that ‘the end of the fifth century ad 
marked the extinction of the Academy’. 2 He adds: 


Though the origin of the Sangam as an institution is shrouded in deep mystery, still the fact remains that there was 
something like an organized Academy ... and it continued to exist for several centuries. A definite stage was reached 
by the beginning of the sixth century ad [after the extinction of the Academy] when the Tamil language underwent 
some transformation in regard to style, metre, etc. 24 

According to Shivaraja Pillai - as ever pursuing his ‘forgery’ case against the scheme of 
things set out in the commentary on the Agapporul 

The fabricator appears to have started from some authentic data before him. They were the so-called ‘Third 
Sangam’ works, which in all probability must have by that time assumed a collected form. These collections 
furnished the basis on which he proceeded to raise his imaginary structure of the Three Sangams. 25 

If we accept the generally agreed date of between ad 350 and 550 for the end of the - at 
least semi-historical - ‘Third Sangam’, then this gives us a fixed reference point on which 
to anchor the chronology of the myth: 

• ad 350 minus the 1850 years given as the duration of the Third Sangam takes us 
back to 1500 bc (i.e., about 3500 years ago); 

• 1500 bc minus the 3700 years given as the duration of the Second Sangam takes us 
back to 5200 bc (7200 years ago); 

• 5200 bc minus the 4440 years given as the duration of the First Sangam takes us 
back to 9600 bc (11,600 years ago). 

The date of 9600 bc for the formation of the First Sangam (or 9800 bc or 9400 bc for that 
matter) coincides closely enough with Plato’s date for the inundation of Atlantis - also 
9600 bc - to raise the hairs on the back of my neck. 

And the question continues to be this: how could Plato less than 2500 years ago, or 
Nakirar less than 1500 years ago, have managed by chance to select the epoch of 9600 bc 
in which to set, on the one hand, the sinking under the waves of the Atlantic Ocean of 
the great antediluvian civilization of Atlantis and, on the other, the foundation of the 
First Sangam in Kumari Kandam - a doomed Indian Ocean landmass that was itself 
destined to be swallowed up by the sea? 

If Plato and Nakirar were pure ‘fabulists’ working independently of any real tradition 
or real events, then isn’t it much more likely that they would have chosen different 
imaginary epochs in which to set their flood stories? 

Why didn’t they chose 20,000 or 30,000 years ago - or even 300,000 years ago, or 
three million years ago - instead of the tenth millennium bc? 

And was it just luck that this slot turns out to have been in the midst of the meltdown 
of the last Ice Age - the only episode of truly global flooding to have hit the earth in the 
last 125,000 years? 


The Kumari Kandam tradition (2) 


More information than I have already reported remains to be gleaned within the 
medieval commentaries. And outside the commentaries there are several allusions in 
Tamil literature that can also fairly safely be said to be part of ‘the tradition behind the 
account’ - even if they do not always refer to Kumari Kandam or to the first two 
Sangams by name. Some are in works of considerable antiquity and high renown, others 
are in less well-known sources, but all in one way or another add to our picture of the 
lost Tamil lands and of the floods that ancient peoples believed had swallowed them up. 

According to V. Kanakasabhai, a specialist in south Indian history, the Tamils of the 
early first millennium ad preserved a tradition, already ancient in their time, 

that in former days the land had extended further south and that a mountain called Kumarikoddu, and a large tract 
of country watered by the river Prahuli had existed south of Cape Kumari. During a violent irruption of the sea, the 
mountain Kumarikoddu and the whole of the country through which flowed the Prahuli had disappeared. 26 

Kanakasabhai’s sources include the Kalittogai (stanza 104:1-4) and the Silipa-thikaram 
(xx: 17-20): ‘The river Prahuli, and the mountain Kumari, surrounded by many hills, 

were submerged by the raging sea.’ 2 Adiyarkkunelar fills in some of the detail when he 
tells us that in the time before the flood these forested and populated lands between the 
Prahuli and Kumari rivers were divided into 49 counties that stretched for ‘700 

Kavathams’ - about 1000 miles. 

The historian P. Ramanathan also draws attention to ‘ancient Tamil poems and 
authentic traditions [that] refer to successive submersions of land to the south of India in 

the Indian Ocean and the consequent reduction of the extent of the Tamil land’: 29 

Purunanuru 6 by Karikishar and Purunanuru 9 by Nettimaiyar ... refer to Kumari and Prahuli rivers both placed by 
ancient commentators in the submerged lands to the south of Cape Comorin [modern Kaniya Kumari]. Kalittogai 
104 specifically refers to [a Pandyan king] losing his territories to the sea and compensating the loss by conquering 
new territories from the Chera and Chola rulers (to the north). Silapathikaram - Kadukankathai (lines 18-23) refers 
to the sea swallowing up the Prahuli river along with Kumarikoddu tract comprising many hill areas. The 
Venirkathai of Silipathikaram refers to the ocean as the southernmost frontier of Tamilaham and commentator 
Adiyarkkunelar explains that the reference there is to the topography after the deluge. The Payiram to the 
Tolkappiyam refers to Venkatam as the northern boundary and [Kaniya] Kumari as the southern boundary of 
Tamilaham. In his commentary thereon Ulampuranar states that the southern boundary (viz Kumari) was 
mentioned because, before submersion by the sea there were lands to the south of Kumari ... In his commentary on 
the Tolkappiyam, Nachinarkkiniyar mentions that the sea submerged 49 Nadus (counties) south of Kumari river 
30 

Ramanathan further reminds us that, according to tradition, the Pandyans are: 

the oldest of the three ancient Tamil dynasties. Perhaps the oldest ruling dynasty in the world ... Some accounts ... 
say that Cheras and Cholas were mere branches of the Pandyan dynasty which separated long ago. 


He then repeats essentially the assertion of the Kalittogai cited above that: 


One of the earliest Pandyan kings, Nediyon (‘the tall one’) is said to have organized the worship of the sea. Portions 
of his land to the south of Cape Comorin [Kaniya Kumari] were submerged by the sea and to compensate for the 
loss he conquered vast territories to the north of the Pandyan kingdom. 

Likewise, T. R. Sesha Iyenagar refers to Tamil traditions which suggest that, although 
Kumari Kandam may have included islands, a large part of it was mainland 

connected with South India ... which was overwhelmed and submerged by a huge deluge. There are unmistakable 
indications in the Tamil traditions that the land affected by the deluge was contiguous with Tamilaham, and that, 
after the subsidence, the Tamils naturally betook themselves to their northern provinces. 33 

What secrets lie concealed in such fragments of folklore and tradition? In his paper ‘The 
Cultural Heritage of the Ancient Tamils’, Dr M. Sundaram, Chief Professor and Head of 
the Department of Tamil, Presidency College, Madras, sums up the evidence to conclude 
that: 

The tradition of the loss of a vast continent by a deluge of the sea is too strong in the ancient Tamil classics to be 
ignored by any serious type of enquiry. In fact the first Tamil Sangam was said to have been functioning from South 
Madurai, in the lost continent. Ancient grammatical texts in Tamil and their latter day commentators testify that 
River Prahuli and Kumari Mountain ranges were lost by a deluge, a Purunaruli verse refers to the River Prahuli and 
Silipathikaram mentions the deluge in which the Kumari continent was lost ... There were 49 divisions between 
River Prahuli and mountain Kumari. The erudite commentator of Tolkappiyam, Per-Asiriyar, has stated that the 
Kumari river was left as Cape Kumari after a deluge. 4 

Last but by no means least, the Tamil epic Manimekalai speaks of the flooding of a city 
off-shore of Poompuhur as divine retribution upon a king who had failed to celebrate 

the festival of Indra. 35 Most archaeologists believe that the reference here is to the 
shallowly submerged ruins of the historical city of Kaveripumpattinam found just south 
of Poompuhur in the intertidal zone mainly at 3 metres or less and dated to between 
300 bc and ad 300 (see chapter 9). However, the U-shaped structure that is now known to 
lie much further out from shore and in deeper water raises the possibility that what is 
remembered in the Manimekalai could be a far earlier event. 


Ravana’s antediluvian domain 

If the Kumari Kandam tradition is in any way a true guide then we should expect to find 
underwater ruins not only in south Indian waters, but also in the waters of the island of 
Sri Lanka - ancient Ceylon. And because Sri Lanka was joined to the mainland during 
the Ice Age by a land-bridge close to Poompuhur (indeed, would have been an integral 
part of ‘Kumari Kandam’) logic suggests that Sri Lankan myths and legends should also 
have something to say on the subject of floods. 

It is therefore reassuring to discover that the Mahavamsa, Dipavamsa and Rajavali, 


Ceylonese chronicles based on archaic oral sources that first began to be set down in 
writing by Buddhist monks around the fourth century ad , 36 ‘speak of three deluges which 

destroyed a large land area that lay beyond Ceylon’. 3 For example the Rajavali 
remembers a time, long before its own compilation as a text, when 

the gods who were charged with the conservation of Ceylon became enraged and caused the sea to deluge the land 
... In this time ... 100,000 large towns, 970 fishers’ villages and 400 villages inhabited by pearl fishers ... were 
swallowed up by the sea ... 38 Twenty miles of the coast, extending inland [were] washed away. ; 

The same source also refers to a flood that affected Sri Lanka even earlier - indeed ‘in 

a former age’ 40 - during the time of the giant Ravana (the ‘demon king’ whose exploits 
feature, separately, in the Indian Sanskrit epic, the Ramayana). Ravana, it seems, had 
angered the gods with his ‘impiety’ and was punished in the usual way: 

The citadel of Ravana, 25 palaces and 400,000 streets, were swallowed up by the sea ... The submerged land was 
between Tuticorin [south-east coast of modern Tamil Nadu] and Mannar [north-west coast of modern Sri Lanka] 
and the island of Mannar is all that is now left of what was once a large territory. 41 

I was later to realize that there is something remarkable about this. In December 2000 
when I was first able to study Glenn Milne’s inundation maps of the Poompuhur region, 
I noticed that a large tract of land would indeed have been exposed between Tuticorin 
and Mannar - just as the chronicle said - at around 16,000 years ago. This was soon 
after the end of the Last Glacial Maximum, shortly before global sea-level began to rise 
steeply, and Milne’s maps go on to show the flooding of Ravana’s antediluvian domain 
by the post-glacial floods. Interestingly, the maps also show an area of higher relief that 
was never submerged and that is today, as the Rajavali correctly reports, the island of 

Mannar. 



Sir J. E. Tennant, among others who wrote long before the era of inundation 
mapping, disregarded ‘the traditions of the former extent of Ceylon and submersion of 
vast regions by the sea’ on the grounds that ‘evidence is wanting to corroborate the 






assertion, at least within the historic period’. 43 But once again, as we now know, there is 
abundant evidence that before the historic period, at the end of the Ice Age, Sri Lanka 
was indeed much larger than it is today with the greatest extent of antediluvian land in 
the north-west bridging the Gulf of Mannar exactly where, ‘in a former age’, Ravana’s 
citadel is supposed to have stood. 


16,000 bc to 9600 bc 

This notion of earlier flood epochs - with the parallel thought of layer upon layer of 
forgotten history receding deep into a past beyond remembrance - is reinforced in 
certain Ceylonese traditions about the ancient Tamils. Amongst these an intriguing 
statement is made that the total number of Sangams was not three, as most other 

accounts maintain, but seven 44 - implying the existence at unknown locations of four 
previous Sangams before the First Sangam set up its headquarters at Tenmadurai on the 

banks of the Prahuli river. 45 

In this connection I note that N. Mahalingam, Chairman of the International 
Association of Tamil Studies, refers in the Proceedings of the Fifth International Conference 
of Tamil Studies to Tamil traditions that speak of three episodes of flooding in the 
millennia preceding the supposed foundation date of the First Sangam: 

The first great deluge took place in 16,000 bc ... The second one occurred in 14,058 bc when parts of Kumari 
Kandam went under the sea. The third one happened in 9564 bc when a large part of Kumari Kandam was 
submerged. 46 

The date for the third of these archaic floods, as readers will note, overlaps, give or take 
forty years, with the date of 9600 bc for the foundation of the First Sangam (and thus 
also with Plato’s date for the submersion of Atlantis). It is only a hint, but if there is any 
substance to it, then it raises the possibility that the First Sangam too, like its successors, 
might have been founded by flood survivors - perhaps even survivors of the very same 
episode of global floods that in another ocean gave rise to the Atlantis myth. 


Cults of knowledge 

At the heart of the Sangam story, whether it concerns three or seven ancient Academies, 
is a theme of entropy and degeneration, spiralling downwards through a series of stages 
from a golden age, powered by vast cosmic cycles of destruction and rebirth. There are 
curious echoes here of the yuga system at the heart of the Dwarka story, on the one 
hand, and of the Vedic notion of the pralaya - the global cataclysm that recurs at the end 
of each world age - on the other: 

• In both cases we must envisage an antediluvian civilization of high spiritual and 
artistic achievement and a group of sages - the Seven Rishis in the case of the 


Vedas, the members of the ‘Academy’ in the case of the Tamil texts - who gather to 
serve the interests of knowledge and to provide an archive or repository for poetic 
and religious compositions. 

• In both cases a cataclysm in the form of a global flood intervenes, swallowing up 
huge areas of land and destroying the antediluvian civilization. 

• In both cases survivors repromulgate the ancient knowledge in the new age - which 
is portrayed as a decline from the age before - forming a new group of Seven Rishis 
or a new Sangam suitable to that age. 

Needless to say there are many differences between the two traditions - too many for 
either to be the result of direct influence from the other. Nevertheless, the underlying 
idea is essentially the same - that recurrent cataclysms afflict the earth, threatening the 
obliteration of human knowledge and a return to ignorance, but that an institution or 
‘brotherhood’ (the Seven Rishis, the Sangam) survives ‘the periodic scourge of the 
deluge’ and rises again after the recession of the waters to carry the cause of knowledge 
forwards into the new age and to ‘bring glory and light to ignorant lands and 

peoples’. 47 

There are also prominent crossover figures suggestive of an unseen link. For example, 
the Sage Agastya, frequently listed amongst or alongside the Vedic Seven Sages, appears 
in Tamil traditions as a member of the First Sangam. Likewise, listed amongst the 549 
members of the First Sangam is the Vedic god Rudra-Siva, master of animals, Lord of 
Yoga, ‘he of the braided hair’. And while his presence there may well, as Pillai argues, 
be just an outcome of Tamil ‘fabulists’ seeking to concoct a divine heritage for their 
work, it is worth remembering that Siva’s primary attribute is gnosis - or knowledge - 
and that whether in south India or the Himalayas he is associated with a cult of esoteric 
knowledge that is said to have been carried down from before the flood. 


The tank and the pillar 

Siva is everywhere in Madurai and stories of his deeds and miracles abound here. Even 
the Meenakshi temple is in fact two temples within a single walled complex - one, the 
smaller of the two, for the goddess Meenakshi, a wife of Siva, and one for Siva himself 
in his manifestation as Sundareshwar. The temple sits at the ancient geometrical centre 

of Madurai, occupying an area measuring approximately 220 x 260 metres 48 - as large 

as the footprint of the Great Pyramid of Egypt. 49 Its perimeter is embellished with 
eleven spectacular gopurams (entrance towers - the highest, in the south, rising to more 
than 50 metres), all of them luridly carved and painted with sensational three- 
dimensional scenes from Hindu mythology. Such scenes, made up of an estimated total 

of 33 million carvings, 50 crowd in everywhere upon the visitor who approaches this vast 
complex of buildings - from the walls of its medieval stone gateways to the columns of 
its Thousand Pillar Hall. 


The temple is not aloof from the great city that surrounds it, but rather the life of the 
city continues within its walls at a different pace. Sometimes it has the atmosphere of a 
market with colourful, noisy crowds bustling from shrine to shrine, beggars seeking 
alms, hawkers selling souvenirs and long-horned cows wandering about as though they 
own the place. It is surprising how often you will see a businessman slip off his shoes to 
stroll inside, smear sacred ash upon his forehead and offer prayers amongst the cool 
shadows and garlanded statues. Lean pilgrims and wild-haired sadhus gather from all 
parts of India seeking alms and enlightenment, couples and families come here on 
outings, and classes of schoolchildren march bright-eyed through the corridors, adding 
their shrill laughter to the non-stop hubbub of conversation and chanting. 

I entered through the southern gopuram and made my way across a sunlit ambulatory 
to the nearby Citra Mandapa, an elegant cloistered colonnade with painted walls and 
ceilings surrounding the Golden Lotus Tank - perhaps the Meenakshi temple’s most 
spectacular feature. Legend has it that this very large tank, which measures 52 metres 
long by 36.5 metres wide, was ‘used to judge the merits of Tamil literary works’ during 

the Third Sangam period. 51 The manuscripts that floated were considered great works of 

literature, and if they sank they were dismissed.’ 52 

In terms of general appearance and design the tank strikingly resembles the Great 
Bath at Mohenjodaro - only there the rectangular ritual bathing pool has been empty 
and dry for thousands of years; here it is filled with green water and is still used by 
pilgrims for purification ceremonies. Much of the temple as we see it today dates from 
the thirteen century ad or later - while the Indus-Sarasvati cities had fallen into ruin by 
the second millennium bc - but I knew that the tank ‘prominently figures in legends 

connected with the origin of the shrine’. 5 As at Tiruvannamalai these legends also state 
that the temple stands where it does because of the prior existence there of a sthala or 
pillar of natural stone - a Sivalingam - that had manifested in primordial times. In the 
case of Madurai, however, the pillar did not appear at the foot of a sacred mountain but 
was found standing upright in a forest ‘beneath a Kadamba tree’ where the Vedic god 

Indra was said to have built the first prehistoric shrine around it. 54 


L 


Wcw Adi Street 






Floorplan of Madurai temple. Based on Howley and Dasa (1996). 


I was reminded of the cylindrical and conical stone pillars (of officially ‘unknown’, 
but I would have thought obvious, function) that have been excavated by archaeologists 
along the valleys of the Indus and the Sarasvati rivers at numerous Harappan and pre- 

Harappan sites. 55 These ‘proto-Sivalinga’ are antedated by even earlier stone pillars of 

the same sort excavated from Neolithic settlements in India 56 - so many of them that T. 
R. Sesha Iyenagar can write: ‘the worship of Siva in the form of a linga existed in the 

Stone Age, which certainly preceded the Vedic Age’. 

The truth is that nobody really knows when the ‘Vedic Age’ began just as nobody has 
yet found the beginning of the Siva cult in India. Powerful and omnipresent from the 
Himalayas to the deep south, it always seems to have existed - in the worship of the 
lingam, in the worship of the sacred mountain, in the worship of the god of yoga and 
knowledge, cross-legged, deep in meditation, surrounded by wild beasts. 

This enigmatic figure, and the complex system of ideas and symbols that he evokes, 
must have come from somewhere. 

Perhaps Kumari Kandam? 


Look south 

































‘It was the most ancient continent in the whole world,’ exclaimed Dr T. N. P. Haran, 
Professor of Tamil Studies at the American College in Madurai. ‘The best and the ancient 
civilization existed there. And it belongs to Tamils.’ 

‘And if I wanted to find it - whatever’s left of it - where would I have to look?’ 

‘Kumari Kandam was a big land. So many people were there. The sea came in and it 
swallowed the whole thing.’ 

‘If I were to go diving off modern Kaniya Kumari, do you think I’d find ruins?’ 

‘I’ve no idea! But I wish you all the best!’ 

I persisted: ‘Should I look directly south of Kaniya Kumari?’ 

Haran thought for a while before replying: ‘Yes, I think at least 300 kilometres south 
of Kaniya Kumari. If you go there you will be able to get something.’ 


What fishermen know 

Before returning to dive with the NIO at Dwarka at the beginning of March 2000 
(reported in chapter 9) Santha and I completed the rest of our long overland journey in 
Tamil Nadu with visits to four coastal towns: Kaniya Kumari in the south, Rameswaram 
in the south-east, where India reaches out towards Sri Lanka across the Palk Strait, and 
Poompuhur and Mahabalipuram along the Coromandel coast facing the Bay of Bengal. 

• Mahabalipuram commands attention on account of the old myths of the Seven 
Pagodas and the sunken city of Bali (see chapter 5). 

• Kaniya Kumari is explicitly referenced in the Kumari Kandam tradition as the new 
southern border of India after the hilly and well-watered land that formerly lay to 
the south of it had been swept away in the deluge. 

• Rameswaram is identified in the Ramayana with what sounds like a land-bridge to 
Sri Lanka: ‘To build a bridge across the sea, the bears and monkeys hurled trees and 
rocks into the water which by the power of Rama remained afloat. The Gods looked 

down enthralled as the monkey armies moved across the sea on Rama’s bridge.’ 58 
(The ‘monkey armies’ - don’t ask, it’s a long story! - are on their way to Lanka to 
rescue Rama’s wife Sita from Ravana, the same demon king of a ‘former age’ whose 
antediluvian domain is said in the Ceylonese Chronicles to have stretched between 
Tuticorin and Mannar. So much land-bridge imagery, from two different traditions, 
and in just the right places!) 


r 


Chennai 

•Madras 

Mjhabalipvirjm* 

. Poompuhur 

K.imc'.v aj«tn* . . 


Kaniya 

Human 


SRI LANKA 


INDIAN OCEAN 


• Poompuhur speaks for itself as the site of the submerged U-shaped structure. When I 
went there in February 2000 I knew that diving would be out of the question 
without going through a long permissions and money rigmarole with the NIO first. 
But I wanted to get a sense of the land side of the story and at least dip my toes in 
the water. 

As we explored and talked to more and more local people it began to dawn on me 
that the ubiquitous south Indian traditions of lost lands and flooded cities - which so 
many scholars simply ignore in their evaluation of history - are well known and almost 
universally believed to be true accounts by the general public of the region. 

This in itself does not necessarily mean anything. Superstitions and follies abound 
amongst the public in every country. But many of my informants were hard-bitten 
professional fishermen who for the most part were clearly not relaying half-remembered 
folklore that they had heard from their grandfathers, but were speaking from direct 
personal experience. Indeed, in Poompuhur and again in Mahabalipuram I met 
fishermen, who had nothing whatsoever to gain by deceiving me, who claimed to have 
seen with their own eyes what they described as ‘palaces’, or ‘temples’, or ‘walls’ or 
‘roads’ underwater when diving down to free trapped anchors or nets. 

An underwater ruin, if it is of any size, will function as an artificial reef, attracting 
many different species of fish to the shelter and security that it provides - particularly in 
areas like south-east India, where the sea bottom is largely flat and featureless. And 
since fishermen are in the business of catching fish, they naturally look out for places in 
the ocean where fish congregate for any reason. In this way they are often the first to 
find unsuspected underwater sites - and frequently may know of sites that 
archaeologists are unaware of. 

My instinct is that this may well turn out to be the case along extensive stretches of 
the south Indian continental shelf which, except off Poompuhur, has never been the 
subject of a marine archaeological survey. My travels from Kaniya Kumari to 
Mahabalipuram have convinced me that the local sightings of anomalous submerged 
structures in these areas are too numerous, too consistent and too widespread to be 
safely ignored. Moreover, were it not for the NIO, no marine archaeology at all would 



have been attempted anywhere in the region. It is therefore surely significant that in the 
one place where the NIO has looked - Poompuhur - something as unusual as the U- 
shaped structure was found in a project lasting just a few days. It makes sense to 
suppose that if further systematic surveys and marine archaeology can be done 
underwater - at Poompuhur and at the other south Indian locations - then more 
discoveries are likely to be made ... 

At Mahabalipuram, in the little fishing village that lies in the curve of the bay a mile 
or so to the north of the Shore temple, Santha and I sat on the beach on a pile of drying 
nets with a large crowd gathering around us. Everybody in the village who might have 
an opinion or information to contribute was there, including all the fishermen - some of 
whom had been drinking palm toddy most of the afternoon and were in a boisterous 
and argumentative mood. What they were arguing about were their answers to the 
questions that I was asking and precisely who had seen what, where underwater - so I 
was happy to listen to their animated conversations and disagreements. 

An elder with wrinkled, nut-brown eyes and grey hair bleached white by long 
exposure to the sun and sea spoke at length about a structure with columns which he 
had seen one day from his boat when the water had been exceptionally clear. ‘There 
was a big fish,’ he told me. ‘A red fish. I watched it swimming towards some rocks. Then 
I realized that they were not rocks but a temple. The fish disappeared into the temple, 
then it appeared again, and I saw that it was swimming in and out of a row of 
columns.’ 

‘Are you certain it was a temple?’ I asked. 

‘Of course it was a temple,’ my informant replied. He pointed to the pyramidal 
granite pagoda of the Shore temple: ‘it looked like that.’ 

Several of the younger men had the usual stories to tell about heroic scary dives - 
lasting minutes, hearts thudding, their breath bursting in their lungs - to free fishing 
gear snagged on dark and treacherous underwater buildings. In one case, it seemed, a 
huge net had become so thoroughly entrapped on such a structure that the trawler that 
was towing it had been stopped in its tracks. In the case of another underwater ruin 
divers had seen a doorway leading into an internal room but had been afraid to enter it. 

One strange report was that certain of the ruins close to Mahabalipuram emit 
‘clanging’ or ‘booming’ or musical sounds if the sea conditions are right: ‘It is like the 
sound of a great sheet of metal being struck.’ 

‘And what about further away,’ I asked. ‘If I were to take a boat south following the 
coast what would I find? Are the underwater structures mainly just here around 
Mahabalipuram or are they spread out?’ 

‘As far south as Rameswaram you may find ruins underwater,’ said one of the elders. 
‘I have fished there. I have seen them.’ 

Others had not travelled so far but all agreed that within their experience there were 
submerged structures everywhere along the coast: ‘If you just go where the fish are then 



you will find them.’ 


Which site to dive on? 

If I had unlimited funds and complete freedom of action then I would long ago have 
organized full-scale marine archaeological expeditions at Kaniya Kumari, Rameswaram, 
Poompuhur and Mahabalipuram in the south and south-east of India, and all along the 
coast of the Gujerat peninsula and the Gulfs of Kutch and Cambay in the north-west. But 
I don’t have unlimited funds - or time - and India, for all her magnetism, is a vast 
challenge and energy drain best approached with a flexible schedule and a spirit of 
compromise. 

Besides, India is one facet of ‘Underworld’, not the whole mystery. After returning to 
England in March 2000, with the Dwarka dives behind me, I could not afford to forget 
that other research was also crying out to be completed and that other journeys had to 
be made - at the very least to the Maldives, the Persian Gulf, the Mediterranean, the 
Atlantic and Japan. Although I had no intention of abandoning the wider investigation 
in India I therefore decided that for the immediate future I would focus my energies on 
getting to dive at Poompuhur - which I had already begun to negotiate with Kamlesh 
Vora before leaving Dwarka - and that all the other potential Indian dive sites would 
have to wait their turn. 

Poompuhur was the obvious first choice, head and shoulders above the other 
contenders. Here alone advance work had been done by the NIO, who, quite 
extraordinarily and with absolutely no fanfare, appeared to have found precisely what I 
was looking for - viz. a large, well-organized and apparently man-made structure that 
had been inundated more than 10,000 years ago at a time when there was no known 
civilization in the vicinity that could have built it. 

While keeping the money and permissions process going with the NIO by e-mail, I 
used the next several months to complete an intensive series of research and diving trips 
to Malta, Alexandria, the Balearic islands, the Canary islands and twice to Japan (once 
in April/May for seven weeks and again in September for a further two weeks). 

By October 2000 my attention was very much back on Poompuhur again, when Glenn 
Milne’s calculations arrived showing that the U-shaped structure was in fact ‘11,000 
years old or older’ - putting its inundation squarely in the same time-frame as the 
supposedly mythical foundation of the First Sangam at Tenmadurai, and as the 
supposedly mythical submersion of Plato’s Atlantis. 

The next development came in December 2000 when Milne supplied me with a series 
of high-resolution inundation maps of India, spanning the period between 21,300 years 
ago and 4800 years ago, which tracked the changes in the subcontinent’s coastline 
caused by rising sea-levels during the meltdown of the Ice Age (see chapter 7). The maps 
show not only the huge amounts of land that antediluvian India surrendered to the 
rising seas but how practical a proposition it is that an unidentified high culture - or 


cultures - of Indian antiquity could have been lost to archaeology during this period. 



In December 2000 I also received confirmation from the NIO that permission had at 
last been granted for me to dive at Poompuhur. The trip could take place in February 
2001 - exactly a year after my previous visit. Mercifully, the final arrangements and 
negotiations (and the money that had to be paid to the NIO) had been taken over on my 
behalf by a film crew from Channel 4 TV in Britain who were now covering my story. I 
welcomed the fact that whatever the NIO had to show me at Poompuhur would be 
documented properly for television. I was convinced that only by allowing the greatest 
number of people to see the U-shaped structure for themselves and to make up their 
own minds about it did it stand a chance of getting the attention it deserved from the 
archaeologists who had hitherto ignored it. 








India 

i2.40c years ago 


India 

6900 years ago 


Unfolding the Indian floods 

In January 2001 Glenn Milne, who had been working overtime, sent me more Indian 
maps - a complete sequence of high-resolution inundation simulations for 21,300 years 
ago; 16,400 years ago; 13,500 years ago; 12,400 years ago; 10,600 years ago; 8900 
years ago; 7700 years ago; 6900 years ago. 

Although I had a rough idea of what to expect, it was still a revelation to flip rapidly 
through these maps from the oldest to the youngest and watch the entire process of the 
post-glacial inundation of India unfold before my eyes. What I found most striking of 
all, however, was the way in which the two areas rich in flood myths where underwater 
ruins had already been found - off the coast of Gujerat in the north-west and off the 
coast of Tamil Nadu in the south-east -were also the two areas most clearly flagged by 
Glenn Milne’s maps as large and continuous antediluvian habitats in which it was 
conceivable that Ice Age civilizations could have flourished. 

Moreover, now that I had the maps at virtually millennium intervals, it was possible 
to pinpoint periods when the extent of the ongoing loss of land to the sea had been 
particularly rapid and to note any correlation between these and (1) John Shaw’s 
cataclysmic chronology for the post-glacial floods; (2) the relevant mythology; and (3) 
the accepted dates for the so-called ‘Neolithic revolution’ in India (i.e., the beginnings of 








food production at Mehrgarh and other sites). 

The north-west 

In the north-west, around Gujerat, the maps show that a huge land area was inundated 
between approximately 17,000 and 7000 years ago - an area contiguous to the domain 
in which archaeologists believe that the first recognizable roots of the Indus-Sarasvati 
civilization were planted during the last three millennia of the same period. As we saw 
in chapter 7, the submerged lands are at their most extensive around the modern Gulf of 
Cambay - south of which the map for 16,400 years ago shows an extensive depression, 
very likely to have been filled with a large freshwater lake, bounded by a further tract 
of land at least 100 kilometres wide and beyond that the Arabian Sea. 

The next map in the sequence - 13,500 years ago - reveals that major changes 
occurred during the intervening 2900 years. The landmass around the Gulf of Cambay 
was much reduced in area and a large island, almost 500 kilometres long and 100 
kilometres wide at its midpoint, was marooned off-shore in the Arabian Sea. Between 
the island and the mainland a marine strait, also 100 kilometres wide in some places, 
opened up through the basin of the former freshwater lake. 

These rather dramatic land-losses between 16,400 and 13,500 years ago correlate well 
with the first of John Shaw’s proposed episodes of global superfloods, which falls 
midway through the period at around 15,000 years ago. 

Over the next 6000 years - between 13,500 years ago and 7700 years ago - the maps 
show that the large off-shore island and the coastal strip masking the outline of the 
Gujerat peninsula were continually nibbled away at by the rising seas, but that these 
events were gradual, extended over many lifetimes, and would have been unlikely to 
have been perceived as cataclysmic. As late as 7700 years ago the Gulf of Cambay was 
still the ‘pleasant valley’ that it had been, uninterrupted, since at least the Last Glacial 
Maximum and the island lying off-shore, though reduced, was still of formidable size - 
perhaps 300 kilometres in length and close to 80 kilometres wide. 

This pattern for the Gujerat area, therefore, does not correlate well with the second of 
John Shaw’s proposed episodes of global superfloods around 11,000 years ago. Nor does 
it suggest a motive for any memorable panic-migration of flood refugees out of this area 
at any point during this period - which straddles the supposed date of around 9000 
years ago for the first settlement of Mehrgarh. 

What happens next, however, provides a close match to Shaw’s chronology of around 
8000 years ago for the third flood. The maps for 7700 years ago and 6900 years ago 
show that in this relatively short period of 800 years the large remnant island below the 
Gulf of Cambay was completely wiped off the map and the Gulf itself was fully and 
permanently inundated to its modern extent. For any hypothetical coastal culture that 
had been forced to retreat and compact into the Gulf’s pleasant valley over the previous 
6000 years, or that had lived on the island, it goes without saying that these events 
would have been more than cataclysmic. 


They would have looked like the end of the world. 

The south 

As we would expect, the inundation maps for 21,300 years ago and 16,400 years ago 
show that few significant coastline changes took place in the south during the five 
millennia or so of the Last Glacial Maximum. At that time Sri Lanka was joined to the 
mainland, as we have seen, and ‘a substantial integrated area - an entire sub-region of 

India’ that is today submerged 59 - was above water in the south and the south-east (and 
indeed all along the Malabar coast in the west also). This lost antediluvian realm 
accords extremely well in a general sense with the central claim of the Kumari Kandam 
tradition that a large landmass did exist around the south of India in ancient times and 
that it was swallowed up by the sea in a series of floods. 

The maps of 21,300 and 16,400 years ago reveal the full extent of the continental 
shelf that was exposed during the Ice Age, but a specific feature of great interest is the 
snout-shaped peninsula shown to have extended approximately 150 kilometres 
southwards into the Indian Ocean below modern Kaniya Kumari. As the reader will 
recall, such a peninsula in exactly this location is spoken of in the Kumari Kandam 
tradition: 

In former days the land ... extended further south and ... a mountain called Kumarikoddu, and a large tract of 
country watered by the river Prahuli had existed south of Cape Kumari. During a violent irruption of the sea the 
mountain Kumarikoddu and the whole of the country through which flowed the Prahuli... disappeared. 60 

The peninsula that Glenn Milne’s calculations place on the inundation maps is not as 
large as the one described in the tradition (which was said to have been ‘ 700 
Kavathams’, about 1500 kilometres, in length). Still it is there - precisely where the 
Kumari Kandam tradition says it should be, and in the correct time-frame. Moreover, the 
maps show another antediluvian landmass that has also for the most part disappeared 
beneath the waves standing in the open ocean to the south-west - the greatly enlarged 
Maidive islands as they looked at the Last Glacial Maximum. 

What if the civilization of Kumari Kandam had been partially based along the coastal 
margins of southern India and Sri Lanka and partially on the antediluvian Maldives 
archipelago? If so, then the idea that Kumari Kandam once extended 1500 kilometres to 
the south of Kanya Kumari does not seem so far-fetched. Nor does the notion that a 
civilization that had once existed in this area could have been destroyed by recurrent 
cycles of catastrophic floods. 

The tradition says that the last of these floods occurred 3500 years ago (supposedly 
the flood that destroyed the Second Sangam at Kavatapuram), and the one preceding it 
7200 years ago (supposedly the flood that destroyed the First Sangam at Tenmadurai). 
In addition N. Mahalingam has cited further Tamil sources that speak of earlier floods: 
one around the date of foundation of the First Sangam, approximately 9600 years ago, 


one just over 16,000 years ago and the earliest 18,000 years ago. 61 

Once again there is a good general correlation between what scientists now know 
about the meltdown of the Ice Age (particularly the episodic and recurrent nature of the 
post-glacial floods) and what the Kumari Kandam tradition claims was happening in the 
world in precisely the same period (episodic and recurrent floods). There is by no means 
one-to-one agreement on the dates at which particularly severe inundations occurred - 
as is to be expected given the margins of inaccuracy that surround the estimating 
processes used by both Shaw and Milne, not to mention the scope for error and 
exaggeration in the tradition itself. Still, there is more than enough agreement on the 
general course of events to give us pause for thought. After all, how many times can we 
reasonably cry ‘coincidence’ when the medieval Tamil ‘fabulists’ keep on getting their 
palaeogeography right? Or did they in fact - as Shivaraja Pillai asks sarcastically - 

‘come upon some secret archive which had escaped the deluge’? 62 

Glenn Milne’s inundation map for 13,500 years ago shows a dramatic change in the 
south Indian landscape since the previous map of 16,400 years ago: the coastal margins 
have been greatly reduced and the peninsula below Kaniya Kumari has been severed by 
the sea, leaving an island off-shore. In the Indian Ocean to the south-west the land area 
of the antediluvian Maldives archipelago has been reduced almost by half. 

The map for 12,400 years ago shows little significant change, but in the map for 
10,600 years ago the island to the south of Kaniya Kumari has been reduced to a dot, the 
Maldives have been further ravaged, and, for the first time, a neck of sea is shown 
separating Tuticorin on the mainland and Mannar in what is now Sri Lanka. This 
incursion seems very close to what is described in the Sri Lankan myth of the flooding of 
Ravana’s kingdom (said to have extended between Tuticorin and Mannar ‘in a former 

age’). 63 Moreover, the timing - between 12,400 and 10,600 years ago - coincides with 
Glenn Milne’s date for the submersion of the U-shaped structure at Poompuhur and 
accords well with the second of John Shaw’s episodes of post-glacial flooding around 
11,000 years ago. 

The map of 8900 years ago shows further minor erosion all around the south Indian 
coastal strip and a deepening of the marine incursion beyond Tuticorin and Mannar 
into what is now a bay beneath the war-torn Jaffna peninsula. However, the Palk Strait 
was still dry land 8900 years ago and, though much diminished in size, the land-bridge 
connecting Jaffna to the mainland was still in place at that date (and indeed was to 
remain there for another thousand years). 

On John Shaw’s estimates, the third of the three great episodes of post-glacial flooding 
was unleashed on the world’s oceans around 8000 years ago - and we have seen how 
this correlates well with what happened at around that time when the Gulf of Cambay 
and neighbouring areas of the north-west of India were rapidly inundated. In the south¬ 
east the inundation maps show that in the same period between 7700 and 6900 years 
ago there was also significant further inundation of the Maldives, while the land-bridge 
between Sri Lanka and Tamil Nadu, which had clung on for so long, was at last 


swallowed up by the sea -leaving India looking very much as it does today. 


Occam's razor 

What are we to conclude about the Kumari Kandam myth? 

In some respects there is no doubt that it has proved eerily, stunningly accurate. On 
the other hand much of it sounds wildly improbable and in places obviously 
‘manufactured’. For example, when one studies the way numbers are used in the myth 
(something that I have not sought to tax the reader with here) certain obvious patterns 
emerge that are more suggestive of a mathematical game, or code, than of true reports 
of the number of members of, or the number of royal patrons of, or the duration of this 
or that Sangam. 

It will be recalled that the durations of the three Sangams were said to be 4440 years 
for the First Sangam, 3700 years for the Second Sangam and 1850 years for the Third 

Sangam. 64 It is obviously not an accident that each of these numbers is a multiple of 37 

(120x37 = 4440; 100x37 = 3700; 50x37 = 1850). 65 What the significance or purpose 
of this pattern is I cannot begin to guess, but it means that the chronology of the myth is 
suspect and cannot be treated as a reliable historical record. 

Still, it does not follow from this and other criticisms that the whole myth must be 
tossed in the dustbin of history and forgotten - as it has been by most scholars. Although 
wildly out of line on some of the details and dates, the myth is right in the broad sweep. 
It is right that India’s Dravidian peninsula was formerly much bigger than it is today. It 
is right that a series of huge deluges occurred over a period of several thousand years 
and that these swallowed up the antediluvian lands in stages. And the myth selects the 
correct epoch - smack in the middle of the post-glacial floods around 11,600 years ago - 
in which to set its flood story. 

Besides, whatever one thinks of myths (and most historians and archaeologists regard 

them as useless to scientific inquiry) 66 there is the awkward and inescapable 
archaeological fact of the U-shaped structure 23 metres underwater and 5 kilometres off¬ 
shore of Poompuhur - a structure that is ‘11,000 years old or older’. 67 Isn’t the most 
parsimonious way to explain its presence there the very one that the myth itself 
provides - namely, that a civilization of former times once flourished in this region but 
was swallowed up by the sea? 

I could only learn more by diving. 


12 / The Hidden Years 


The period dreadful for the universe has come. Make for thyself a strong ship, with a cable attached; embark in it 
with the Seven Sages and stow in it, carefully preserved and assorted, all the seeds which have been described of old 


Satpatha Brahmana 

An epoch of spectacular geological turmoil occurred at the end of the last Ice Age, with 
the most dramatic effects registered in a series of cataclysmic floods that took place at 
intervals between roughly 15,000 and 7000 years ago. Is it an accident that this same 
8000-year period has been pinpointed by archaeologists as the very one in which our 
supposedly primitive forefathers made the transition (in different places at somewhat 
different times) from their age-old hunter-gatherer lifestyle to settled agriculture? Or 
could there be more to ‘the food-producing revolution’ than meets the eye? After all, 
most scientists already recognize a causative connection between the end of the Ice Age 
and the supposed beginning of farming - indeed an unproven hypothesis that rapid 
climate changes forced hunter-gatherers to invent agriculture presently serves as pretty 

much the sum of conventional wisdom on this subject. 1 

But there is another possibility. Nobody seems to have noticed that in the general 
vicinity of each of the places in the world where the food-producing revolution is 
supposed to have begun between 15,000 and 7000 years ago there is also a large area of 
land that was submerged by the post-glacial floods between 15,000 and 7000 years ago: 

• We have seen that this is true for India, one of the world’s ancient agricultural 

‘hearths’, 2 which lost more than a million square kilometres in the south and the 
west and, most conspicuously in the north-west, at the end of the Ice Age. 

• It is true for China and for south-east Asia, both important centres of palaeo- 
agriculture. Immediately adjacent to them, but now under as much as 100 metres of 
water, lies the Ice Age continent of Sundaland. Prior to its final inundation of about 
8000 years ago, this consisted of more than 3 million square kilometres of prime 
antediluvian real estate extending from the Malaysian peninsula through what are 
now the Indonesian islands and the Philippines. Taiwan was incorporated with the 
Chinese mainland and northwards from there the coast expanded almost 1000 
kilometres to the east to fill what is now the Yellow Sea and incorporate the Korean 
peninsula fully with the mainland. 



CHINA 


SUNtJA 


SAHUL 












• It is true for the so-called Fertile Crescent - the prime agricultural ‘hearth’ of the 
Middle East, centred around lands watered by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, that 
forms a rough semi-circle through parts of modern Israel, the Lebanon, Syria, 
Turkey, Iraq and Iran and ends up near the Persian Gulf. For not only was the Gulf 
previously dry - and flooded at the end of the Ice Age, as we saw in chapter 2 - but 
a glance at the wider map also shows several other inundated areas near by in the 
Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and the eastern Mediterranean. 

• And it is true for Central America, where agriculture is thought to have sprung up 
spontaneously, independent of developments in the Old World. Off the Gulf of 
Mexico, the Yucatan, Nicaragua, Florida and Grand Bahama Banks were imposing 
landmasses during the Ice Age that were swallowed by the post-glacial floods 
around 7000 years ago. Evidence from Mexico and Panama, published in July 2001, 
indicates that ‘agriculture in the Americas began around 7000 years ago’. It is 
notable that: ‘On the Gulf coast pollen evidence suggests that forest was being 
cleared around 5100 bc and domesticated maize plants were being grown only a 
century later ... The San Andres site near the famous Olmec centre of La Venta 
showed that maize had been introduced and grown in a region of beaches and 








lagoons.’ 3 


My curiosity about coincidences like these developed as I researched Underworld - 
because the sudden appearance of village farming communities at the end of the Ice Age 
was the first step on the road to modern civilization (so the stakes in this inquiry are 
high), and because the Ice Age lands that went under the sea cover an area of more than 
25 million square kilometres of the earth’s surface where, for obvious practical reasons, 
almost no archaeology has ever been done (so important evidence could very easily 
have gone undetected). Since many of the coastal lands that were inundated would have 
offered desirable refugia from inhospitable and unpredictable Ice Age conditions, the 
possibility surely has to be considered that the real story of the origins of food 
production and of civilization may yet await discovery because the evidence is 
underwater. 

I decided to explore this neglected possibility with all the resources at my disposal, 
knowing when I did so that it would commit me to an exhausting and expensive 
schedule of travel and diving - much of which might prove fruitless - and that I would 
have to enter arcane areas of inquiry, ransack obscure libraries and rack my brains on 
uncompromising sciences if I was to have any hope of success. 


Long shot 

I needed a good research assistant and in August 2000 I found one - Sharif Sakr, who 
has proved to be the very best of the many good researchers I have worked with over 
the years. Right at the beginning, I asked Sharif to find me an authoritative scientist at a 
major university who could produce high-resolution inundation maps for us, virtually on 
demand, for any point on earth at any time during the meltdown of the Ice Age. This 
was the start of our long and productive working relationship with Glenn Milne. 

Then, as the inundation data began to pour in during the last quarter of 2000, I set 
Sharif another closely related task. This was to comb through collections of ancient 
maps from the sixteenth century or earlier - i.e. before the world had been fully 
explored - to see if he could find any that showed correlations with Glenn Milne’s 
reconstructions of Ice Age coastlines. 

This touches on a problem - and a mystery - that I have long had an interest in and 
to which I devoted three chapters in my 1995 book Fingerprints of the Gods. To put 
matters at their simplest, it has been claimed by Charles Hapgood and others that 
certain maps dating roughly between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries show 
Antarctica and other areas of the world not as they look today, but as they may have 
looked during the Ice Age when sea-levels were 120 metres lower. Moreover, many of 
the areas in question had not even been discovered when the maps were drawn 
(Antarctica was not discovered until the nineteenth century). 

Hapgood explains such anomalies with the suggestion that a high civilization, which 


was subsequently destroyed, may have existed and mapped the world to near-modern 
levels of precision during the Ice Age. He further proposes that after the destruction of 
that hypothetical civilization some of the maps survived and were handed down from 
generation to generation, being copied and recopied many times as the original 
materials on which they were drawn perished. Perhaps facsimiles preserved and passed 
on in this manner eventually ended up lodged in the great libraries of late antiquity - 
notably at Alexandria in Egypt, which was for a long while a world centre of 
navigational and astronomical science. Perhaps some of the facsimiles were amongst 
other salvaged documents rescued from the fire that is said to have destroyed the 
Alexandria library in the early centuries of the Christian era. Perhaps a handful found 
shelter in other archives in the Middle East. Perhaps from there, after a few more 
centuries had passed, they were looted by Crusaders and redistributed around the 
Mediterranean where their value as navigational charts was recognized by mariners. 
And perhaps then, in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century, a new era of 
copying began in which information from the highly revered and generally accurate 
ancient maps was integrated with the observations and measurements of contemporary 
sailors to create navigational charts of astounding accuracy. Since the Mediterranean 
was at that time conceived of by its inhabitants as the centre of the world, it would have 
been quite natural for the copyists to focus most of their work on reproductions of the 
Mediterranean and neighbouring coastal regions - even if their source documents 
showed a far wider area ... 

All speculation of course. Except the part about the sudden appearance at around the 
end of the thirteenth century, of uncannily good maps of the Mediterranean and 
immediately neighbouring parts of the Atlantic. That is completely true. They are called 
portolans or portolanos and several hundred have come down to us - all of which, 
eminent cartographers are agreed, show the influence of a single source map, now lost, 
that the great map historian A. E. Nordenskiold called ‘the normal portalano’. Rarer, but 
fortunately still also surviving, are a handful of world maps and portions of world maps 
in recognizable portolan style - and it is mainly amongst these that the alleged 
similarities to Ice Age coastlines and topography are observed. 

Many years have passed since Hapgood published his famous Maps of the Ancient Sea 
Kings in 1966 and there have been huge improvements in the technology for calculating 
post-glacial sea-levels. Moreover, although he has been repeatedly attacked and vilified 
by scholars who claim to have ‘debunked’ his work, the essential mystery upon which he 
touched remains unsolved to this day. 

I’m not interested in reviewing Hapgood again - read Fingerprints, or better still read 
Hapgood! But in the light of the good inundation data we now had from Glenn Milne I 
asked Sharif to cast a fresh eye over some of the more intriguing ancient maps that 
Hapgood had drawn attention to and to look for others that might have a bearing on 
the problem. I suggested he exclude Antarctica from the search, since I had paid enough 
attention to it in 1995. And on the same grounds of redundancy I told him to ignore any 
correlations that Hapgood himself had already written up. I only wanted material that 



hadn’t been observed and argued about before, that correlated well with the inundation 
maps, and that was substantial enough to withstand the rigours of hostile academic 
scrutiny. 

It seemed a lot to ask for - a real long shot - but then in February 2001 Sharif e- 
mailed me about a map of India that he had been investigating. What was remarkable 
about this 1510 Portuguese map was the fidelity and degree of detail with which it 
which it portrayed areas of the Indian coast as they had last looked 15,000 years ago. 

I was already in India when I read the e-mail on my laptop on 23 February 2001. I 
had just flown into Tamil Nadu from the Republic of Maldives, where I had spent four 
days working with the Channel 4 film crew. 

The same night, after we had checked into the Fisherman’s Cove hotel in 
Mahabalipuram, where we would be filming the next morning, we received 
confirmation from the NIO that their team had relocated the U-shaped structure at 
Poompuhur and would be ready to dive with us on the 26th. 



13 / Pyramid Islands 


The Redin came long before any other Maldivians. Between them and the present population other people had also 
come, but none were as potent as the Redin, and there were many of them. They not only used sail but also oars, and 
therefore moved with great speed at sea ... 

Thor Heyerdahl 


Republic of Maldives 18-23 February 2001 

This is the Maldives. Imagine you are flying in a specially equipped plane, under an 
endless blue sky over endless blue ocean ... The plane is very fast and manoeuvrable, 
you can go where you want in it, and yet all you see is blue -just blue above and blue 
below. 

Suddenly, in the distance, far away where the sky meets the water, your eye catches a 
glint of ... something on the horizon. You turn the plane towards it, skimming at 200 
metres over the ocean with little waves breaking into white horses below you. 

Soon land comes into view - just a curving feather of sand no more than a kilometre 
wide and three kilometres long, adorned with plumes of lush green palm leaves seeming 
to float in a sea that is now not merely blue but that grades into incredible shades of 
azure and turquoise. Passing directly overhead you see an area cleared of jungle packed 
with tiny houses built out of white coralline limestone blocks and separated from one 
another by an orderly network of streets brushed with white coralline limestone sand - 
so that the whole Lilliputian village glares like a mirror in the morning sun. 

You take the plane higher to get a better view (remember this is an imaginary journey 
and you can go as high as a satellite if you want), and you see that the stunningly 
beautiful but tiny inhabited island over which you have just flown is part of an even 
more stunningly beautiful ring of even tinier uninhabited islands and sandbars also 
shaped as rings and crescents and ellipses. This ring in its turn reveals itself to be just 
one of countless other rings and crescents and ellipses lying side by side to form a much 
larger ellipse in the ocean - the outer rim of a great Maldivian atoll 50 kilometres wide 
and more than 100 kilometres long. The atoll encloses a lagoon of hardly smaller 
dimensions (since the rim islands themselves are narrow), and within the lagoon are 
scattered dozens more small coral islands and sandbars in which the essential patterns 
of the entire Maldives chain - circles, ellipses, crescents - repeat themselves again and 
again. 



• Male 


MALDIVES 

INDIAN 

OCEAN 


North NUandhoo Atoll 


One and a Half Degree Channel 


rt' South Huvadhoo Atoll 
Equatorial Channel 

• Addu Atoll u . 

You urge the plane higher still, look down at last on the entire archipelago stretched 
out below you around the curve of the earth and discover that it consists of an assembly 
of similar atolls, twenty-six of them in all, strung together like the pearls in a necklace 
and draped in the form of an elongated ellipse 754 kilometres long from north to south 
and 118 kilometres wide from east to west. 

Each atoll is the product of coral growth around the edges of a submerged volcanic 
mountain peak: 

In a scenario played out over hundreds of thousands of years, coral first builds up around the shores of a volcanic 
landmass producing a fringing reef. Then when the island, often simply the exposed peak of a submarine mountain, 
begins slowly to sink, the coral continues to grow upwards at about the same rate. This forms a barrier reef which 
is separated from the shore of the sinking island by a lagoon. By the time the island is completely submerged, the 



coral growth has become the base for an atoll, circling the place where the volcanic landmass or island used to be. 
The enclosed lagoon accumulates sand and rubble formed by broken coral, and the level of this lagoon floor also 
builds up over the subsiding landmass ... Coral growth can also create reefs and islands within the lagoon ... 1 

The lagoon floors are all submerged today, but at the Last Glacial Maximum, when 
sea-level was lower by about 120 metres, the huge basins within each and every one of 
the Maldives atolls were all dry land ... 

You fly the plane lower again, spiralling downwards towards the sea, zooming in on 
one atoll, one emerald-green island. Within a beach perimeter of startlingly white sand 
it seems at first to be just thick palm jungle from one side to another and apparently 
uninhabited. 












Then you spot a clearing in the jungle less than half a kilometre from the sea. You fly 
closer. In the heart of the clearing, with a tree growing on its summit, is what looks like 
a conical hill. Closer still and you discover that the hill is not a hill at all, and it is not 
quite conical either. 

It is a ruined and partially collapsed pyramid about the height of a two-storey 
building. 


The necklace 

The four-day trip that we made to the Maldives immediately before returning to India 
on 23 February 2001 was not intended to be an expedition to search for underwater 
ruins - hardly practicable in such a short time in an archipelago of almost 1200 tiny 
islands extending through eight degrees of latitude across 90,000 square kilometres of 
ocean. In all that mass of blue water the total area of dry land is presently less than 300 
square kilometres and many scientists are of the opinion that even this remnant may be 
submerged before the end of the twenty-first century by rising sea-levels linked to global 

warming. 

The threat of extinction that hangs over the Maldives and its unique culture serves as 
a reminder that the world’s oceans can and do rise, and that when they do they can 
swallow up low-lying countries - and all their history - with not a trace left visible 
above the water. And if that is true today, deep in what has so far been the most placid 
interglacial of the past 2.5 million years, then it doesn’t take much imagination to work 
out how things must have been in the world when sea-levels were rising crazily between 
15,000 and 7000 years ago. 

Besides, thanks to the ingenuity of modern science, we have inundation maps to tell 
us the story - perhaps still not with 100 per cent accuracy (although that is being 
refined all the time) but based on the best data presently available. 

And what the maps tell us about the Maldives is that the necklace of scattered coral 
atolls of which the archipelago now consists was almost continuous land at the Last 
Glacial Maximum, broken only by intermittent channels, bays and inlets, occupying 
perhaps 50,000 square kilometres out of the total of 90,000 square kilometres that the 
Republic presently encloses within its territorial waters. In other words, some 49,700 
square kilometres of the Maldives that was above water between 21,000 and 16,000 
years ago is underwater today. 

In my investigation of the riddle of Kumari Kandam I could hardly ignore this lost 
antediluvian landmass in the Indian Ocean that had stretched towards the equator from 
a point roughly parallel to the extended southern tip of Tamil Nadu during the Ice Age. 
Even today the much reduced Maldives are a barrier to shipping, but 16,000 years ago, 
had anyone been sailing in these parts, they would have been confronted by an 800 
kilometre long line of cliffs running north to south effectively blocking the east-west 
passage. Hypothetical Ice Age seafarers wanting to sail east or west would have been 


more or less obliged to make their way through one of two deep-water channels - the 
‘One and a Half Degree Channel’ (so named because it slices across the Maldives one 
and a half degrees north of the equator) and the ‘Equatorial Channel7, then as now 
about 50 kilometres wide, which separates South Huvadhoo Atoll (in the northern 
hemisphere) from Addu Atoll (in the southern hemisphere). 

So rather than the dots in the ocean that they are today, the Maldives 16,000 years 
ago would have been formidable. If such a thing as ‘Kumari Kandam’ ever did exist, 
centred as the myths suggest on the antediluvian coastal margins of southern India and 
Sri Lanka, then might it not also have included the great barrier islands of the Maldives 
just a few hundred kilometres to the south-west? As I noted in chapter 11, such a 
hypothesis would explain the old Tamil traditions which tell us that Kumari Kandam 
once extended into the Indian Ocean some ‘700 Kavathams’ (about 1500 kilometres) 
beyond modern Cape Comorin. 


The disappearance of prehistory 

The ancient history of the Maidive islands is almost completely unknown 5 and their 
inundation profile suggests that their prehistory, if any, may have been lost beneath the 
rising seas at the end of the Ice Age. The matter is further complicated by the presence 
of an alarming ‘gravity anomaly’ centred here. In layman’s terms what this means is 
that the archipelago is situated at the bottom of an enormous trough in the surface of 
the Indian Ocean itself - this trough being created by a strong local gravitational field 
which some believe may be linked to the mass of sunken mountains on top of which the 
Maldives atolls have grown. Like other gravity anomalies (several similar troughs have 
been measured in the world’s oceans by satellites) it is not certain that this one has 
always remained in exactly the same location, or that its depth has always remained the 

same, or that it always will do so in the future. 4 

Very little archaeology of any kind has ever been done in the Maldives, but the view 
of most orthodox scholars is that ‘the first settlers probably arrived from Ceylon not 

later than ad 500 and were Buddhists’. 5 Other authorities argue for an earlier date - back 
to about 500 bc - and note some south Indian, specifically Tamil, Hindu religious 

influence. 6 Thor Heyerdahl, who is one of the few to have conducted archaeological 
expeditions in the Maldives and whose book The Maldives Mystery is the only serious 
attempt to get to grips with the problems of the islands’ ancient history, believes that 
they were settled much earlier than that - perhaps by 2000 bc or even 3000 bc - and that 
they may have played a part in an archaic Indian Ocean trading network involving 

ancient Egypt and the Mesopotamian and Indus-Sarasvati civilizations. So far 
Heyerdahl has not been supported by the few carbon-dates obtained from the Maldives - 

none older than ad 540 8 - but in this as other matters he may yet be proved right. What 
we do not know about these islands far exceeds what we know: 


Usually the history of a nation begins with a potent king founding a dynasty. The Maldives is a definite exception. A 
long dynasty of kings was already there before known Maidive history started. This kingdom ended when Maidive 
history began. The last king was made a sultan by a pious foreigner who came by sea and started local history. He 
caused all the kings to disappear into oblivion, except one, the one he himself converted. With neither arms, nor 
with any Maidive blood in his veins, he introduced a new faith, new laws, and founded the present Moslem Maidive 
state. 9 

In other words, not only has the Maldives suffered the incursions of the sea and the 
usual depredations of time but also it was converted, in the year ad 1153 (the year 583 

of the Holy Prophet), to the Islamic faith, 10 which led to further attrition of ancient 
structures, artefacts and inscriptions. As my old friend Peter Marshall, author of Journey 
Through the Maldives, explains: 

Recorded history only begins about the time of the conversion of Maldives to Islam ... As Christians in Europe begin 
their calendar from the birth of Christ and tend to dismiss all earlier religions as pagan, so Maldivians follow the 
Islamic calendar. Until recently they had very little interest in what happened before. Not only was Maldivian pre- 
Islamic history suppressed but most pre-Muslim artefacts were destroyed. 11 

So what archaeologists are left to work with in the Maldives, above the water at least 
(and nobody has yet looked underwater), is almost certainly just a fraction - and 
perhaps an extremely unrepresentative fraction - of what was once there. 

Even so, buried deep in the jungle of islands up and down the archipelago -some 
uninhabited and all off-limits to tourists - there are several dozen partially collapsed 
and heavily overgrown pyramids, up to ten metres high, with their sides oriented to the 
cardinal directions. Although in a state of ruin today, these mounds of compacted earth 
and stone, in some cases with stepped courses of closely jointed megalithic masonry to 
be seen exposed under the earth fill, have a sombre and looming presence as they 
emerge out of the jungle. Called hawitta by the local people, the precise function and 
origin of these mounds have not been confirmed - though the carbon-dates put their 

construction between roughly ad 500 and 700. 12 

Most scholars think they are Buddhist stupas (relic mounds), which probably they are. 
Unimpeachably Buddhist sculptures, reliefs on stone and artefacts have been found 
amongst the ruins and some of the pieces are recognizably similar to other Buddhist 
work of the same period from India and Sri Lanka -so there is no doubt that Buddhism 

was extensively present on these islands in the centuries before the coming of Islam. 13 
Indeed, a Sanskrit text of Vajrayana Buddhism dating back to the ninth or tenth century 

ad is the earliest surviving legible inscription thus far found in the Maldives. 14 

Still, as a number of observers have noted, there seems to be something strange about 
this Maldivian Buddhism. Could it be some other religious influence showing through - 
maybe a form of Hinduism that had preceded the Buddhist faith to the Maldives? Certain 
striking sculptures of grotesque human faces with bulging eyes, twirled mustachios and 


curved cat-like fangs ‘may recall Hindu deities’, 15 admits Arne Skjolsvold, an 
archaeologist with the Kon-Tiki Museum - who nevertheless prefers to explain such 

images as expressions of a localized subculture of Tantric Buddhism. 16 

There may be clues in Dhivehi, the Maldivian language. It belongs to the Indo- 
European family and is related to Sanskrit and thus also to Sinhalese, one of the two 
languages of Sri Lanka (the other being Tamil). Sinhalese has been heavily influenced 

and modified by its contact with Tamil, 17 and, according to Clarence Maloney, a 
Tamil/Dravidian sublayer exists in Dhivehi also, which suggests that ‘Hinduism was 

present in the Maldives before the Buddhist period. 18 

Interestingly, large numbers of ‘phallic’ sculptures have been recovered in 
archaeological excavations in the Maldives - for example amid the ruins of a vast 

temple complex in North Nilandhoo Atoll. 19 I was able to study a collection of such 
objects from different parts of the archipelago and in my opinion, despite some 
idiosyncrasies, they are nothing more nor less than Sivalinga. 

That Siva’s characteristic emblem should be found here in these remote islands on the 
edge of the southern hemisphere is in a way not surprising - since he was ever 

Daksinamurti, ‘the God of the South’. 2 But Siva is an ancient and widely revered god 
whom the Vedas associate with the high peaks of the Himalayas far to the north and 
whose image as the ascetic Lord of Yoga and as Pasupati, Master of Beasts, goes back 
nearly 5000 years in the Indus valley cities of Harappa and Mohenjodaro. 

Moreover, as we saw in chapter 11, so many lingam-like objects have been found in 
much older pre-Harappan sites that T. R. Sesha Iyenagar can exclaim: ‘the worship of 

Siva in the form of a linga existed in the Stone Age’. 21 In this regard, therefore, the 
Kumari Kandam tradition once again proves itself to be in accord with the 
archaeological facts when it proclaims Siva’s membership of the First Sangam, 
supposedly founded in the antediluvian city of Tenmadurai 11,600 years ago - a date 
deep in the Stone Age. 


The riddle of the hawittas 

Let’s set to one side for a moment the intimations of vast antiquity for the religion and 
religious ideas that became Hinduism and Buddhism (for Buddhism is merely a 
‘protestant’ offshoot of Hinduism and both trace their origins and authority back to the 
Vedas). 

Let’s accept the range of dates around the middle of the first millennium ad proposed 
by archaeologists for the construction of the pyramidal hawittas of the Maldives (or, 
strictly speaking, for the construction of the few that have thus far been excavated). 

And let’s accept the same date range for the religious sculptures, artefacts, etc. that 
have been found round about them. There seems no good reason not to do so; on the 


contrary, it looks as though the archaeologists have done their jobs well and that these 
dates are likely to be accurate within a reasonable margin of two or three hundred years 
either way. 

But then the question arises, where did the distinctive religious art and architecture of 
the Maldives come from? Yes, its sculptures and its pyramids -or stupas - are similar to 
those of the Buddhists of Sri Lanka, but there are differences ... And yes, they are similar 
to those of the Hindus of south India, but again there are differences. So where and 
when did these differences and unique characteristics incubate and take shape? There is 
no archaeological trace of any evolution of architectural and symbolic ideas behind the 
oldest structures in the Maldives. The hawittas just suddenly appear - we must assume 
around 1500 years ago from the carbon-dating - in an already fully designed, fully 
worked-out form and with all the required building skills already in place. 

Were they the work of immigrants importing a pre-existing architectural canon from 
elsewhere? Perhaps - but if so, then where? No other trace of the distinct Maldives style 
has been found in India or Sri Lanka. Or is it possible that the ever-encroaching seas 
have simply swept away and covered up the earlier stages of the Maldives story - just as 
they will sweep away and cover up the little that is left of the archipelago before the 
end of this century? 


Bill Allison’s antediluvian tour 

I dived a couple of times in the blue waters of the Maldives with Bill Allison, a tough, 
crew-cut, steely-eyed, flat-bellied 54-year-old Canadian who is conducting a long-term 
scientific survey of the islands’ coral reefs. I’ve already noted that our rushed filming 
schedule and the vast area that would have to be covered ruled out any structured or 
useful exploratory diving during our short stay - for the same reasons that there is no 
point in looking for a needle in a haystack. So the producers’ objective for these two 
dives was simply to film what they call ‘pretties’ - beautiful fish, beautiful coral, lush 
tropical waters with infinite visibility, sun effects, surge effects, etc., and generic shots 
of me finning around in situ. The ‘motive’ for our dives here in storytelling terms (as if 
anyone needs a motive to dive in the Maldives!) would be provided by Bill Allison - the 
coral reef expert - showing me - the eager historical detective -notches and caves at 
various depths that had been cut in the coral formations by waves during the lowered 
sea-levels of thousands of years ago. 

After we had completed our dives we sat talking on the deck of the boat in the 
afternoon sun, moored in the open sea just on the outside edge of North Male Atoll. I 
asked Bill: ‘How come the Maldives are here? We see coral under us, but what’s the story 
of how it got there?’ 

Bill Well, it seems that as India drifted over towards Asia [continental drift 
hundreds of millions of years ago] the Maldives or what became the Maldives 
were left as a string of volcanoes behind it, and as these volcanoes sank into the 



earth’s crust, coral grew on them and just kept growing. Right now there’s over 
maybe 2000 metres of coral. 

GH: 2000 metres of coral on top of the original volcanoes? 

Bill: That’s right. 

GH: Wow ... [pauses for thought) - Now if we ... if we go back to the period that 
I’m interested in, which is the period from the Last Glacial Maximum, through 
until about the beginning of historical times, about 5000 years ago or so - so 
say from 17,000 years ago down to 5000 years ago - what would we be seeing 
around us here, if we could be here 17,000 years ago? 

Bill: Well, we’d be right now where we are with respect to these islands, looking 
up about 130 metres to see those trees ... Like the cliffs of Dover or something. 
It’d be a plateau with notches cut where the channels are, so the cliffs might be 
130 metres high - 

GH: Wow. 

Bill: - and the channels - 

GH: So that would be towering above us? 

Bill: That’s right. And the channels might be, oh, 80 metres, 90 metres high. 

GH: Wow. And then once we’re inside that area there (pointing towards atoll) 
presumably it would all be land? 

Bill: Yeah. 

GH: Or would there be some water too? 

Bill: Well, it’d be depressed and it just depends. This is very porous material. Coral 
doesn’t grow as a solid mass, just a lot of crevices and so on, so any water 
falling would drain rapidly. There might be temporary lakes, there’d be streams. 
They would probably develop into underground rivers and they’d probably 
empty into the sea through the ground or maybe through the channels. 

GH: Would there have been rivers above ground? 

Bill: Rivers? Probably. But probably not big rivers and probably disappearing into 
the ground pretty quickly, and we can imagine waterfalls cascading out of this 
plateau we’re looking at, into the sea. 

GH: So ... so the land would be rearing above us. Does that mean we would or 
wouldn’t be on the sea where we are now? 

Bill: Well, we might be ... we might be on part of the shelf, or on the island too, 
depending how far out from shore we are. [Looks around and overside of boat.) 

GH: But in general, from island to island, what would the situation have been? 
Would they have been islands? 



Bill: (figuring out location of boat in relation to reef) Oh, right, OK. We’re on the 
outside of the atoll now so we’d still be on the sea ... We’d be looking at this big 
plateau and the islands, what we now think of as sea bottom between the 
islands, would all be dry - unless it was raining and there were lakes forming - 
and there’d be vegetative jungle. It’d look a lot like the cockpit country in 
Jamaica in the present time. 

GH: Right. So it would be - 

Bill: That’s how I imagine it. 

GH: So it would be kind of lush, jungly country? 

Bill: Yeah. On limestone, what’s called karst topography, very rugged, with sink 
holes. 

GH: And then what happens? That’s 17,000 years ago. We’re outside the atoll. We 
look inside. We see a huge amount of land - jungle - between what are now 
scattered individual islands. Then we know that after the Last Glacial 
Maximum, sea-level begins to rise. So if you could just talk me through what 
happens after that. And I understand it’s a complicated problem, because at the 
same time the sea is rising, the volcanoes are very, very slowly sinking and the 
coral is growing. 

Bill: Well, as the sea-level rose, we’d see all that vegetation and land inundated. A 
lot of the soil would become sediment suspended in the water. It would 
probably inhibit coral growth for a while, so some of the reefs would grow and 
others would not grow, and that probably accounts for some of the variation we 
see. We see reefs that are maybe at 50 metres ... their tops are at 50 metres, yet 
now there’s no obvious reason why they didn’t grow, we can only assume that 
for some reason they drowned, whereas other reefs kept up and they’re the ones 
we see on the surface today. 

GH: I know from the studies that we’ve done that there were still substantial 
amounts of land exposed here down to 10,000, even as late as 8000 years ago. 
There was more land above water than there is now. Would there be any reason 
why these islands should be uninhabited at that time? Would they have been the 
kind of place where people could have lived? 

Bill: I would have thought that they’d be relatively easy to find given how far they 
were out of the water, and presumably how far west the shelf around India 
might have extended, so given how much we’re finding out about how our 
ancestors used to get around, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they’d made it 
here. 

GH: Because it seems that this sea-level rise - I don’t know if your studies 
underwater have given any indication of this, but what we’ve found out so far is 
that the sea-level rise seems not to have been gradual, but to have occurred in 



episodes and peaks when there were sudden flooding events and then a plateau 
and then another flooding event. Do you see signs of that underwater here? 

Bill Well, in fact probably not only was it intermittent, but there were also 
declines at certain times, and provided that the sea-level stood still for a long 
enough time - and I don’t really know how long that was but probably 
centuries to a millennium - then you would get notches cut in the reef slope for 
example, and in some places the substantial notches that dissolved in water 
became grottoes or caves, like those we swam through this afternoon - and 
some of those collapsed, and you can see these collapsed structures here and 
there. 


Bill Allison’s tantalizing glimpse 

I had what I thought was a final question for Bill - the obvious one: ‘In all your years of 
diving around the Maldives,’ I asked, ‘have you ever seen anything underwater that 
looks man-made - and I don’t mean something modern that’s been dropped down there, 
but something old?’ 

There was a pause, then he replied rather hesitantly: ‘Well, I did once when I was 
down where I shouldn’t have been, and ... I wouldn’t trust what I saw.’ 

GH: How deep were you? 

Bill: I was about 40 metres doing some work, and it was down below me and I can 
only estimate that it might have been at 70 metres, and it looked a lot like a 
stairway. 

GH: Wow. 

Bill: But given the distance between it and me, and the fact you can’t resolve 
anything very clearly at that distance, and because your mind plays a few tricks 
on you at that depth ... Well, I wouldn’t want to bet the farm on it. 

GH: But it looked like a regular cut stairway? 

Bill Yeah. And it was narrow, that’s what made me think about it - that it wasn’t 
an undefined width. It was clearly defined. 

GH: With sort of side edges? 

Bill: And had a step-like structure, yeah, as far as I could tell from that distance. 

GH: So what was your feeling when you saw that? Hallucination? 

Bill: No. I thought, ‘That’s interesting - I’d like to get back and have a closer look 
some time.’ But I’d prefer to do it on Trimix and with proper surface support. 

GH: How far is the site from here? 

Bill: It’s in the Vadhoo Channel - about an hour by boat, but I’m not at all sure 



that I could find it again. 

GH: And is it close to islands? I guess everywhere around here is. 

Bill: Yeah, it’s right on the edge of an atoll rim. So if sea-level was 130 metres 
lower, or anything less down to about 70 metres, then to access the water or the 
land, you’d need something like that. 

GH: You’d need something like a jetty or a wharf, something with steps, yeah. 

Bill: But I mean I really ... 

GH: You can’t guarantee it? 

Bill: I’d give it a probability of about 20 per cent or less. 

Even if Bill had rated the probability of relocating his steps at 2 per cent or less, I think 
I would still have wanted to go and see if we could find them. 

But if we could find them - itself probably requiring several days of searching - I 
would have to do a lengthy, complicated and highly technical course in diving with 
Trimix (special mixed gases instead of compressed air) before I could safely descend to 
work at 70 metres (about 220 feet). So the most we would be able to do - and then only 
if the visibility was very good - would be to hover at 40 metres and look down at the 
steps as Bill had done before. 

However, none of this was an option, because our filming schedule required us to fly 
to India the next day. Steps or no steps, we were going to have to pack up and leave ... 


The secret of the Redin 

There are ancient oral traditions, still repeated by the elders of some of the more remote 
islands, which provide an explanation for the Maldives’ atmosphere of lost prehistoric 
grandeur and for its strange ruins. These traditions speak of a mysterious people called 
the Redin, said to have built the hawittas, who were described to me by Naseema 
Mohamed, a scholar at the Maldives National Institute for Linguistic and Historical 
Research, as: 

Very tall. They were fair-skinned, and they had brown hair, blue eyes sometimes. And they were very, very good at 
sailing. So this story has been around in Maldives for many, many years, and there are certain places where they say 
the Redin camped here, and certain places which they say here the Redin were buried. But we don’t really know 
how old or how long ago it happened. 22 

During his series of research visits to the Maldives, Thor Heyerdahl collected and 
compiled Redin legends from all parts of the archipelago. He concludes that in the 
memory of the islanders the Redin were ‘a former people with more than ordinary 

human capacities’: 23 


The Redin came long before any other Maldivians. Between them and the present population other people had also 


come, but none were as potent as the Redin, and there were many of them. They not only used sail but also oars, and 
therefore moved with great speed at sea ... 24 

Likewise, Peter Marshall reports a Maldivian tradition about the phenomenal maritime 
abilities of the Redin which tells of how on one occasion they cooked their food in the 
north of the archipelago then sailed so fast to the far south that they were able to eat 

the meal there still warm. 25 

Such notions of humans with supernatural or even god-like powers flying swiftly 
across the sea in their boats with sails and oars is strangely reminiscent of the imagery 
of the Rig Veda cited in chapter 7 concerning the Asvins - who are several times praised 
for having conducted a daring rescue in the deeps of the Indian Ocean: 

Yea Asvins, as a dead man leaves his riches, Tugra left Bhujyu in the cloud of waters ... Ye brought him back in 
animated vessels ... Bhujyu ye bore ... to the sea’s farther shore, the strand of ocean ... Ye wrought that hero 
exploit in the ocean which giveth no support, or hold, or station, what time ye carried Bhyjyu to his dwelling borne 
in a ship with hundred oars, O Asvins/ 

O Asvins ... Ye made for Tugra’s son [Bhujyu], amid the water floods, that animated 
ship with wings [sails?] to fly withal, whereon ... ye brought him forth. And fled with 
easy flight from out the mighty surge. Four ships, most welcome in the midst of ocean, 
urged by the Asvins, saved the son of Tugra, him who was cast down headlong in the 

waters ... 27 


A connection with the Gulf of Cambay? 

Any connection with the Vedic Asvins is purely speculative. Nevertheless, Thor 
Heyerdahl makes a case that there is real history behind the Redin myth, that it is older 
than the date now confirmed by radiocarbon for the construction of the hawittas - which 
tradition nevertheless attributes to the Redin - and that the people it refers to probably 
originated in north-west India, the primary setting of the Rig Veda. After visiting Gujerat 
and the great marine dockyard of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization at Lothal -where 
cowrie shells from the Maldives (Cyprea Moneta) have been excavated amongst the ruins 

and are to be seen in the site museum 28 - he comments: 


Cambay 

t 


INDIA 


Bay of Bengal 
SRI LANKA 


Possible prehistoric maritime connection between the Maldives and northern India 


I was convinced that at least the Hindu element in the Maldives had come from the north-western corner of India. 
And probably the Hindus were not even the first to have made the journey straight south from the Gulf of Cambay 
to the Maldives. Perhaps earlier sailors in the days of Mesopotamian and Indus Valley seafaring had been led by the 
sun to the Equatorial Channel, and survived in legend as the Redin. 

But if this could be so, then it is also possible that the real people upon whom the Redin 
myth is based could have arrived in the Maldives even earlier than that. Of particular 
interest is the fact that the Gulf of Cambay was not a gulf until it was suddenly 
inundated by the last of the three great episodes of post-glacial floods some time around 
7700 years ago (see chapter 11). Prior to that, the further back you go in time the 
further the coast extends to the south of the Gulf, with another episode of tremendous 
land-loss registered at around 15,000 years ago. 


More than one lost civilization? 

Then there is the whole complicated question of the obvious but ancient role of 
Dravidian and south Indian culture in the prehistory of the Maldives and the way in 
which the enlarged Ice Age footprint of the Maldives dovetails with the Kumari Kandam 
myth of the Tamils. 

On the other hand, there is the obvious Sanskrit and north Indian influence that is 
also present in the Maldives and that dominates its language, Dhivehi. 

It is too easy, in my view, to argue, simply because Dhivehi belongs to the Indo- 
European language family, that it therefore must be derived from Sinhalese, the Indo- 
European language of Sri Lanka - which itself only became entrenched in that island 

around the sixth century bc following an invasion of settlers from northern India. 30 Thor 
Heyerdahl’s hypothesis of a prehistoric maritime connection between the Maldives and 
Gujerat - and let us not be too hasty to put an upper limit on the antiquity of that 



connection - is an equally effective means of supplying the Maldives with an Indo- 
European language. 

Behind all of these questions and problems is the wider issue of the relationship 
between the Dravidian culture of south India, the traditions and religious ideas of north 
India and the distinctive manner in which the Vedic and the Tamil flood myths 
intertwine, sharing gods, sharing sages, and sharing the same underlying story-line built 
up around the theme of recurrent cataclysms and the preservation of antediluvian 
knowledge. 

Not for the first time I found myself wondering if we could be dealing in India with 
not one, but two different and yet intimately interrelated lost civilizations of the Ice Age - 
one predominant but not exclusive in the antediluvian north-west, with its own 
individual character, style and language, the other predominant but not exclusive in the 
antediluvian south, again with its own individual character, style and language. 

Because of the spectacular land-losses that India had suffered at the end of the Ice 
Age, it was not difficult to imagine how both could have flourished along the 
subcontinent’s coastal margins and outlying island chains at roughly the same time, 
both could have been swallowed up by the sea over roughly the same period, and both 
could have left survivors to repromulgate the antique system of knowledge that they 
shared - which claimed, through self-discipline, meditation and the asceticism of yogic 
austerities, to have marked out the straight and narrow path of spiritual transcendence 
in the material world. 



14 / Ghosts in the Water 


The great deluge took place in 16,000 bc ... The second one in 14,058 bc, when parts of Kumari Kandam went under 
the Sea. The third one happened in 9564 bc, when a large part of Kumari Kandam was submerged. 

N. Mahalingam, Chairman, International Association of Tamil Studies 

Poompuhur coast, south India, 26 February 2001 

The ancient religious teachings of India may be directed towards spiritual transcendence 
but the morning that we were going out to dive at Poompuhur I felt no inner peace. 
Instead, I was up brooding long before dawn, my head swirling with fears and anxieties, 
hopes and possibilities. I could feel the first leaden numbness and uneasy visual aura of 
an oncoming migraine - a perverse affliction with which I must deal whenever I am 
under great stress and am most in need of a clear head. I immediately treated myself 
with an injection in the thigh of the powerful drug Immigran, which will normally stop 
even a severe full-blown migraine in its tracks, but this time it only reduced and did not 
entirely eliminate the symptoms, leaving me feeling weak, drained and on edge. 

I knew that these were going to be big dives for me, that there was a lot riding on 
them, and that the mysterious U-shaped structure that I had come to see would be filmed 
for the first time so that people everywhere, archaeologists and non-archaeologists 
alike, could make up their own minds about it. 

What this meant was that I was being given the chance - the incredible opportunity 
funded by Channel 4’s money and prestige - to test the basic proposition of the 
Underworld hypothesis, i.e. that evidence which might shed significant new light on the 
mystery of the origins of civilization could be lying under the sea. I realized that if 
Glenn Milne’s inundation dating of ‘11,000 years old or older’ for the U-shaped structure 
was correct, and if the earlier NIO marine archaeologists’ reports that it was man-made 
rather than some natural outcrop of rock were also correct, then what was awaiting me 
on the sea-bed off Poompuhur was, quite possibly, the vindication of my quest. 

It didn’t matter much what the structure turned out to look like. For example a ruined 
pyramid, or a corbelled archway, or broken columns - though archetypal antediluvian 
images in popular culture - were not in the least required. Irrespective of how 
dilapidated it might be, irrespective of how covered in marine growth and sediment it 
might be, even should it prove dull and unexceptional to the eye, all that I needed to 
prove my case were the remains of a structure that was monumental in scope, man¬ 
made and more than 11,000 years old, sitting on the sea-bed off the south-east coast of 
Tamil Nadu. 

If the U-shaped structure was all these things, then it could not be explained by the 
orthodox model of history. And if it was all of these things, then the hitherto discredited 
Tamil myths of a great antediluvian civilization called Kumari Kandam that had once 
existed around the southern coasts and islands of India might very well be true. So in a 
way, I reflected, if the U-shaped structure really was what the NIO said it was, then I 



was about to come face to face with my own personal Holy Grail. 

How very annoying, therefore, that my film producers had scheduled just one day for 
the diving. Having gone to great lengths to get the NIO to cooperate with us over 
filming the U-shaped structure at Poompuhur, and having paid out a very large sum of 
money to hire the NIO diving team and marine archaeologists full-time for six days, here 
we were making use of them for just one day! 

It struck me as a crazy, misguided, self-contradictory policy which on the one hand 
had moved heaven and earth to make it possible for me to dive at Poompuhur at all and 
on the other would only allow me two or at the most three dives at the site - thus 
making it almost inevitable that I would not be able to do a proper job there. I felt like 
Moses being told that he could see the Promised Land but would not be allowed to enter. 

No wonder I had a headache. 


That gentleman is not well ... 

The coastal plains around Poompuhur are exceptionally flat with a gentle seaward slope 
- a characteristic of topography that continues unbroken underwater for a very great 
distance out from shore and that would have multiplied the effects of even relatively 
small sea-level rises into rapid and catastrophic floods capable of inundating very large 
areas. 

We met up with our NIO friends on the beach - Kamlesh Vora, Gaur, Sundaresh, 
Gudigar, Bandodkar and others - and a scene was shot of me greeting them and walking 
with them. The scene required three takes. 

Then we all piled into a small open launch to make the run through the big breakers 
that were lashing the shallows to the point about a kilometre off-shore where the fishing 
trawler that the NIO had chartered for the diving was moored. 

Another hour or so passed while we did the launch-to-trawler run twice more so that it 
could be shot from different angles. 

Then finally we all climbed on board the trawler - not so easy since its sides towered 
more than 2 metres above the bottom of the launch - stowed our equipment, and headed 
out into the open sea. 

I was irritable, withdrawn - certainly not very conversational - and felt like lying on 
my back and closing my eyes to ease the ominous symptoms of my returning migraine. 
Instead, for the next half hour as we chugged the remaining 4 kilometres towards the 
dive site, basic good manners required that I stay on my feet, catch up on gossip with 
everyone from the NIO, and look cheerful, optimistic and positive. After all, I was a 
man being given an incredible opportunity. Shouldn’t that put a smile on my long 
Scottish face? 




Position of the submerged U-shaped structure off Poompuhur coast Based on Rao et 
al. 

Sundaresh and Bandodkar had already buoyed the site some days previously and 
while the trawler manoeuvred into position to anchor next to the buoy I wandered off to 
an unoccupied corner of the deck and surreptitiously gave myself another shot of 
Immigran. That made two, the maximum permitted dosage in twenty-four hours. 
Praying that this horrible, increasingly blinding and ghastly headache would now please 
go away, I lay down with a towel over my eyes for the next ten minutes, only sitting up 
again when it was clear that the anchoring operation had been completed. 

‘Feeling any better?’ asked Kamlesh with genuine concern. 

‘Not sure,’ I replied. 

‘That gentleman also is not well.’ 

I looked over to where Martin, our underwater cameraman, was indeed very 
definitely unwell, sprawled on the deck retching miserably ... 

It seemed unlikely that he would be going underwater any time soon. 


Cornucopia 

In the end it was decided that Stefan Wickham, the producer, would film the first dive. 
Hopefully, Martin would be well enough to shoot the second for us. There probably 
wouldn’t be time for a third, because we still had to interview Gaur, Sundaresh and 
Kamlesh on the boat and had already used up most of the morning shooting the scenes 
from the beach and just getting to the dive site. 



As I was rigging my tank I noticed that half a dozen small local fishing craft had 
arrived here ahead of us and that the fishermen, oblivious to our presence in their midst, 
were cheerfully casting out their lines and hauling them in again with big silver fish 
attached. It seemed that here, as elsewhere along the Coromandel coast, the location of 
underwater ruins was part of the essential survival knowledge and folklore of fishing 
communities - just as they knew the tides and the monsoons - because an underwater 
ruin meant one thing for sure and that was a cornucopia of fish ... 

Stefan jumped in the water first - intending to have the camera rolling before I 
jumped in. Instead, he was carried off in a brisk surface current and began rapidly to 
recede from view. Fortunately, the trawler had a motorized rubber dinghy in tow which 
was dispatched to retrieve him and fifteen minutes later he was back on board. The 
trick, explained the NIO divers, was not to try to fight the current but to grab hold of the 
buoy-line the minute you hit the water and then use it to pull yourself down the 23 
metres to the ruin. 


Dive 1: descent 

Although the sky is now overcast the water isn’t cold, not like Dwarka the year before. 
But compared to the life-giving iridescent blues of the Maldives, its sickly and unnatural 
green hue, through which light penetrates only dimly after the first few metres of the 
descent, has all the allure of radioactive fog after a nuclear disaster. Like blighted 
snowflakes, a blizzard of grey particles blows through the water on the current and I 
soon lose sight of the other divers on the line. I know that Sundaresh, my dive buddy 
today, is just a few metres below me, but I can’t see him. In conditions like this there is 
really nothing much to be done except check your gauges, relax, trust in your own 
competence and head for the bottom. 

Five metres deeper and the visibility suddenly begins to clear - not dramatically, but 
still much better than before. The current seems to have slackened too, as sometimes 
happens at greater depth. Visibility continues to improve and at one point looking 
down the line I can see all three of the NIO’s divers spaced out at metre intervals below 
me, their yellow and blue tanks bright through the haze. 

At about 18 metres I begin to get the first sense of something large standing out from 
the flat and sandy bottom. At this moment it’s just a looming mass of darkness 
contrasted to lighter surroundings and my eyes can’t resolve it into a definite shape. 

The other divers above and below me leave the line, fan out and disappear from view. 
Gaur is working with Santha, who will be shooting stills. Gudigar is working with Stef 
on the video camera. Gaur, Gudigar and Sundaresh were all part of the team of marine 
archaeologists who first dived on the structure during the NIO’s initial surveys in 1991 
and 1993. 


Sleeping with the fishes 



Sundaresh, who is waiting for me at the bottom, wants to show me courses of masonry 
that he has noticed on his previous dives - but before I join him for the guided tour I let 
go of the line, establish neutral buoyancy and just drift about 2 metres above and 2 
metres to the side of the structure. There’s no current now at all, the visibility has gone 
very foggy again - probably sediment kicked up by some of the other divers - and I rest 
completely still in mid-water, adjusting my eyes to the gloom, trying to understand what 
I’m looking at. 

The only thing I can tell immediately is that it’s a big, squat, powerful-looking 
structure. In order to get any useful idea of its shape, extent and general situation, and 
even to form a first opinion of whether it might be man-made or natural, I need to be 
quite a bit further away from it than 2 metres. But if I do that, in these conditions, it 
rapidly fades from view, becoming just a vague, undefined darkness on the sea-bed 
again, and then disappearing entirely into the fog. 

I swim around a bit, now closer, now further away, trying to get perspective, looking 
for an angle. And then unexpectedly the whole scene in front of me brightens - the sun 
must have broken through the clouds - and for thirty seconds I am confronted by a 
massive wall of deeply eroded and pitted stone. Although much broken and ruined, and 
incorporating a number of jagged vertical protrusions and step-like changes in level, I 
can see that the wall in general rises about 2 metres above the sea-bed to form the 
outside edge of an extensive platform. 

It comes home to me, in this moment of illumination, that the structure has its own 
character - as many buildings do. It seems menacing but also forlorn, eerie but also sad. 
For as well as thick growths of unusually leprous marine organisms all over it, the shaft 
of sunlight shows it to be draped and tangled across its entire length in a strangling web 
of fishermen’s nets - some made of old rope, ancient and rotting away, others in the 
sinister colours of indestructible modern synthetics - which seem to tie it down like the 
body of a Mafia victim sleeping with the fishes. 

I find myself suppressing an involuntary shiver, as though reacting to an apparition, 
or a ghost, and swim back to find Sundaresh still patiently waiting for me at the bottom 
of the line. 


Walls ...passages ... entrances 

We begin by swimming slowly south along the upper outside edge of the platform wall - 
if indeed it is a platform, which I’m now beginning to doubt. Rather than flat as I’d 
initially assumed, its surface at this point seems to be slightly concave - or dish-like - 
and to be paved with a mosaic of small stones. I find myself wondering if it’s possible 
that I’m looking at the retaining wall of an enclosure - I know its supposed to be U- 
shaped - filled up almost to the rim with some kind of sandy, stony aggregate. 

The wall at this point is aligned north-south but soon begins to bend to the east to 
form the base of the ‘U’. In another one of those little flashes of illumination as the sun 



breaks through the clouds I can see that we must have started our swim at the open end 
of the ‘U’ - the end spoken of in some of the NIO reports as ‘the entrance’ - and that the 
length of the structure along this axis is therefore roughly the distance we have just 
travelled, about 30 metres. 

Not far before the bend begins I pass an opening to my left which I pause to 
investigate. It is a deep, narrow cleft with parallel sides a little wider than my shoulders 
slicing vertically through the whole height of the outer wall to penetrate the platform 
(or the stony fill, or whatever it is) that lies beyond. And for the first few metres at 
least, this gully, or unroofed passage (or whatever it is!) follows a curving path that 
seems to duplicate, from within the structure, the distinctive outer curve of the ‘U’. 
Swathed everywhere with snagged and rotting nets, it is rough and broken in places, 
flat-floored and clean-edged with an almost quarried look in others. 

Making a mental note to spend more time here before the end of the dive I turn back 
and resume my original course along the outside wall where it bends to the east, trying 
to catch up with Sundaresh. Looking for me, he meanwhile has swum all the way round 
and made his way back to the entrance where I eventually join him. 

But is it really an entrance? 

As though understanding my perplexity, Sundaresh points to a gap in the wall about a 
metre and a half wide to one side of which I can now see that the buoy-line is tied. 
Holding his hands up he reassuringly signals ‘this is the entrance’. 

I take a closer look. 

What’s confusing things once again is the stony aggregate that fills most of the 
structure - although I’ve noticed that it does so quite unevenly. Its presence here makes 
it hard to see the gap as an entrance because it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere much. At 
the same time the thick retaining wall, generally in the range of 2 metres high, is at 
least a metre higher than that on either side of the gap - resembling a pair of gateposts. 
It also has a pronounced lip standing proud of the aggregate infill by almost half a 
metre - weighting the scales ever more in favour of the idea that the U-shaped structure 
must originally have been designed not as a platform but an enclosure, and that it 
certainly cannot be a natural formation. 

But is the enclosure wall hewn out of living rock, like the great carved shore temples 
of Mahabalipuram, or is it a built structure made of bricks or stone blocks? 

We use up the rest of the first dive searching for the courses of masonry that 
Sundaresh is convinced he saw in 1993. Yet how are we to find them under the thick and 
tenacious armour of marine organisms that coats the wall? Several times reaching into 
shadowy eroded hollows to see what’s inside we must work our hands carefully around 
resident scorpion fish which flutter their poisonous spines as though to taunt: ‘Go on, 
touch me - make my day.’ 

But we don’t find any evidence of masonry. 

Not on the first dive. 



Disturbing 


During the surface interval I fought down waves of nausea and the pounding in my 
temples, took another shot of Immigran, and felt sufficiently restored after half an hour 
to fall into an argument with Gaur about the U-shaped structure. 

The reader will recall from chapter 9 that Gaur’s position had been rather stark when 
he and I had first discussed the matter a year before: the structure was large; its depth 
meant that it was more than 10,000 years old; archaeology knew of no culture 
anywhere in India capable of building such a structure 10,000 years ago; therefore either 
the structure was not man-made or it was not 10,000 years old. 

I asked him if he’d changed his mind in any way over the intervening year and told 
him of the findings of Glenn Milne and his team at Durham: ‘We’ve had some geologists 
working with us on this project in Britain who are specializing in sea-level rise. And 
their computer model is quite sophisticated. It takes account of many, many different 
factors, including land subsidence. And they’re very confident that for these bearings, 
for this location, that this site would have been submerged about eleven thousand years 
ago. What do you make of that?’ 

If anything, Gaur replied, this made his chronological problems with the data even 
worse: ‘11,000 years ago whatever settlements there may have been here were at the 
Mesolithic level. And we don’t expect, we don’t have any data to suggest, that such 
people, Mesolithic people, can build this kind of structure.’ 

‘Such a large structure as this?’ I prompted. 

‘Yes.’ 

‘And you’re saying that - presumably - on the basis of what you already know about 
the level of culture and civilization in this area in different periods?’ 

‘Yes,’ said Gaur: ‘So I think - if it is man-made - it should be around 2500 years old, 
maximum date. Not earlier than that, particularly in this area.’ 

‘And I think you’re putting the cart before the horse,’ I interjected. ‘See, obviously I’m 
not an archaeologist and I come at this really from the point of view of a reporter or a 
journalist. So my response to this structure is first of all the facts. A structure is there. It’s 
at 23 metres. Is it or is it not man-made? I feel the structure has to answer that question 
itself instead of us simply replacing what it has to say with our preconceptions about the 
nature of development of culture in India at this or that period. The structure should 
speak to us through archaeology. We should excavate it and find out really is it man¬ 
made or not. Although I must say that I personally find it very difficult to believe that 
nature could have deposited a structure like that there. So the question I’m coming to is 
this. We know that certainly 9000 years ago people were beginning to build quite large 
structures in some parts of India - for example level 1A at Mehrgarh in the Indus valley. 
Now, admittedly that’s 2000 years later than the proposed inundation date for this 
structure but it’s in the same general ballpark - back at the end of the Ice Age. So my 
point is that if people were building permanent structures at Mehrgarh in the north-west 


9000 years ago, then what is the objection in principle to the possibility that people 
could have been building permanent structures here in the south-east 11,000 years ago 
on lands that were flooded?’ 

‘Well, because we don’t see any such structures in the archaeological record for south 
India or any part of India 11,000 years ago!’ 

‘But maybe that’s precisely what we’re seeing here, Gaur! We haven’t seen it before 
because it’s been underwater, but now that it’s been found surely we have to allow it to 
speak for itself? It seems to me that the archaeology needs to be done on the site first 
before we make any definite statements about the level of culture that was here 11,000 
years ago.’ 

‘From what I have studied and from what I understand about Mehrgarh,’ Gaur replied, 
‘if you go back to level 1A it was simply mud walls and they were concentrated in one 
area - they were living in a group and the village community started. But when we 
come to Poompuhur - well, if you see the U-shaped structure, it is such a big one. And it 
is part of a complex with other big structures spread over a wide area. So it means if 
human beings made this then they must have had very great technology at that time. I 
don’t think it can be compared with the simple mud-brick structures of Mehrgarh ...’ 

‘In other words, if the U-shaped structure is 11,000 years old and was made by human 
beings it would be rather disturbing for our view of history.’ 

‘Yes. Obviously.’ 


Dive 2: impatience and haste 

Martin takes over from Stefan on the camera for the second dive but Stefan comes down 
as well, just in case. 

We all descend the buoy-line and are back at the entrance - which is oriented north. I 
swim south as before, heading for the curving passageway near the far end of the ‘U’ 
that I’d noted on the first dive and forgotten to re-examine. 

Sundaresh is a metre or two behind me, still looking for his courses of masonry and 
I’m steaming ahead when I feel him reach out and grab my fin. He points to something 
that he clearly regards as noteworthy, but whether it’s because I am disoriented diving 
on an unfamiliar structure, or whether it’s because of the appalling visibility, or because 
I’m in too much of a hurry, or because of my migraine, I just don’t see what he’s showing 
me. 

Behind us Martin doesn’t either - but he keeps shooting, recording the relevant 
incident in twenty-six seconds of videotape that I’m not able to review until late that 
evening. The first twenty-four seconds show me being impatient and hasty. The last two 
seconds show something that I should under no circumstances have allowed myself to 
miss through impatience and haste - something that I should have examined thoroughly 
on the spot and had filmed and photographed from every different angle. 



Instant replay 


26 February 2001, 15.37.02-15.37.28: 

Hancock and Sundaresh swimming north-to-south, along western wall of U-shaped structure, Hancock in lead, 
depth approximately 22 metres. Sundaresh pauses to examine area of wall, attracts Hancock’s attention, then 
returns to wall. 

Hancock joins Sundaresh, who points to area of interest on wall. 

Hancock gives it cursory glance and seems keen to get a move on. 

Camera tilts down to base of the wall, just above the surrounding sea-bed, then begins to tilt up for point-of-view 
shot. 

Shot holds for two seconds on a narrow section of the wall about 1 metre high that is clear of growth and reveals in 
lower right of frame an ordered pattern of small blocks arranged in four distinct courses with the edge of a possible 
fifth course partially visible under marine growth. The blocks are brick-sized but irregular in cross-section and 
appear to be set into some kind of matrix. 

Camera tilts up to top of wall, rediscovers Hancock who is swimming determinedly away, and follows ... 


Excursion to the mound 

At this point - frustratingly still before I have reached the curving passageway that 
branches inside the structure at the southern end of the ‘U’ - the other divers signal us 
back, wanting to stick to the plan that we had all agreed in advance for this dive and 
that I had forgotten as soon as I hit the water. The plan is to spend most of our fairly 
limited bottom-time at this depth exploring a second major structure that lies close by 
(about 45 metres away according to Sundaresh when we had discussed the matter in 

Dwarka the year before). 1 One of a pair of ‘mounds’ lying to the north of the U-shaped 
structure, it was identified during the NIO’s 1991 and 1993 seasons at Poompuhur, and 

Sundaresh had spoken of seeing ‘perfect cut blocks’ scattered on the sea-bed beside it. 2 

Bandodkar, whose word is law amongst the NIO divers, has insisted that this second 
dive should be limited on decompression grounds to half an hour or less - a prudent but 
in my view unnecessarily zealous interpretation of the nitrogen tables for the depth we 
are working at. I suppose it was because I was feeling rebellious about this time-limit on 
the whole dive that I rushed off so fast at the beginning to attend to my interest in the 
curved passageway. 

Now I am rightly brought to order so that we can all proceed as a group to the second 
structure. I can see the point of being safety-minded in these conditions. The visibility is 
extremely bad - almost like being lost in an immense sandstorm but with a different 
texture. And although the NIO divers have previously rigged a yellow nylon rope as a 


guideline I still feel disoriented as I follow it. North? South? East? West? Up? Down? 

Down is easy. In fact I’m so close to the sea-bed that I’m practically slithering on it 
and yet it gives me no points of reference because it consists of absolutely and 
uniformly smooth, flat and unbroken fine-grained sand. The contrast with the stony 
textures and the bulky solidity and complexity of the U-shaped structure could not be 
more pronounced. 

Then we reach the ‘mound’. Like the U-shaped structure it has an isolated position in 
the middle of the flat plain with no slope or build-up. A lot of silt and sand has been 
deposited on it and around it, but there’s no doubt that its core is a massive stony pile. I 
can make out what seems to be the edge of a wall a metre thick and similar in general 
appearance to the enclosure walls around the U-shaped structure. Festooned in scorpion 
fish it rises to a height of about 3 metres above the sea-bed before disappearing into the 
larger mass of the mound behind it. 

Martin shoots this scene but then signals that he is unwell and must return to the boat. 
Sticking to Bandodkar’s safety rules the entire group leaves the mound and makes the 
trek back along the rope with him until we come again to the entrance of the U-shaped 
structure where the buoy-line is anchored. Martin and some of the other divers then 
ascend. Stef, who has the camera again, follows me. 


Blocks in the passageway 

I’m still determined to explore that curving passageway, so I swim south as usual along 
the west wall. Sundaresh and Stef both keep pace. 

I can see the narrow entrance to the passage coming up on my left when I notice 
something on the bottom to my right less than 2 metres west of the base of the wall. It 
looks like a small splintered tree stump protruding upwards out of the sand. But it 
proves to be made of badly damaged and eroded stone. Two more similar objects are 
near by but none of them in itself seems particularly interesting. Feeling pressured for 
time, I do not examine them further. 

Next I’m into the passageway. Been there. Done that. I want to see where it leads to. 

So I follow it all the way through this time and find myself in something like a room, 
very roughly defined, that seems to be free of the otherwise all-pervasive stony 
aggregate that so confuses the picture elsewhere on the structure. 

Platform? Or enclosure? It would be a funny sort of platform that had an open-roofed 
room carved out in the middle of it - maybe more than one room for all I know. 

For my money, therefore, this is yet another good reason to conclude that the U- 
shaped structure is an enclosure, that it probably has several internal walls that are 
presently hidden from view, that it has its main entrance to the north and at least one 
subsidiary entrance in the west wall, and that either through human or natural agency it 
has at some point been partially filled up with stony rubble. 



Ah, the freedom and manoeuvrability of diving. On a whim I adjust my buoyancy by 
breathing in and ascend out of the ‘room’ to a point a few metres above the structure 
hoping to get a plan view - but once again the awful visibility defeats me and I can see 
almost nothing. 

I drop back down and work with Stef to complete a little sequence of me looking 
around the ‘room’ then swim out of shot while he finishes filming inside. A moment or 
two later I see him emerge backwards from the curving passage, still filming, with the 
camera seeming to focus mainly on the floor and the lower part of the side walls. 

On that footage too I will later note something else of interest that I missed in the 
rush and stress of the day. It’s on just eight seconds of tape. 

Instant replay 

26 February 2001, 15.56.33-15.56.42 

Shot tracks unsteadily along floor of passage and passes across net draped over and partially obscuring change of 
level and possible step up in floor. 

Camera ascends about a metre, shot tracks left of net and picks up a clear line of five blocks emerging from under 
marine growth. They are dark, almost charcoal black, and brick-sized like those seen on the first dive, but here 
much more regular in cross-section. 

Shot wavers, returns to net, then tracks left again passing the same line of blocks which is now seen to continue to 
the left by at least a further six blocks, with other courses in outline above and below it, before it disappears under 
the heavy marine growth again. 


Ascent 

On the way up we do the routine five-minute stop at 5 metres to reduce our nitrogen 
levels. The water is very still and warm, the visibility worse than ever, and I drift in 
neutral buoyancy slowing my breathing, just thinking things through. 

It feels strange to have been privileged to see a structure hidden from human eyes for 
11,000 years. 

A structure more than 7000 years older than the Great Pyramid of Egypt. 

A structure for which no archaeological context exists. 

A ruined net-draped structure. 

A ghost in the water ... 


More blocks on tape 

This was turning out to be a good day for Glaxo Wellcome. After the second dive I took 
my fourth injection of Immigran at $50 a shot. Then I had to collapse again, sprawled 



out like a landed fish on the wooden deck of the trawler while the pain in my head 
gradually dulled and withdrew - only people who suffer from severe migraines will 
understand the sense of relief and release that I felt as the drug did its work. 

By 5.30 I was back on my feet drinking tea and chatting to Kamlesh Vora. At around 
the same time Martin went down for a short dive in the last of the daylight 
accompanied only by Gudigar in the hope of getting relatively clean, undisturbed shots 
of the structure. 

When I later came to review these shots I found that they contained a third brief 
sequence showing construction blocks, this time of better quality than the previous two. 
The sequence is timecoded 17.36.15-17.36.29 and Martin seems to be standing on the 
sea-bed near the enclosure wall: 

The shot starts focused on a small white shell lying on the sand then quite slowly pans across to the base of the wall 
and holds steady for several seconds on four distinct courses of masonry. Again the size of modern household bricks, 
perhaps a little larger, the blocks here are extremely regular and almost cylindrical - or cigar-shaped. The exposed 
sections of each course can be seen to continue horizontally over a width of approximately a dozen blocks until they 
either vanish out of shot or disappear beneath thicker marine growth. 


Mysterious 

By profession Kamlesh Vora is a geologist, not a marine archaeologist, but geology 
plays an increasingly important role in modern marine archaeological research and is 
one of several important skills necessary to distinguish whether a disputed structure is 
natural or man-made. Moreover, Kamlesh had been involved in the very first work that 
the NIO had ever done at Poompuhur way back in 1981 - long years before the 1991 
and 1993 campaigns - and had carried out the initial sonar surveys on which much of 
the later work plan was based. 

I kicked off our interview on the boat with a leading question: ‘The ocean is a big 
place and we see that there are some possible structures here. Have you done any kind 
of surveying from the surface?’ 

Kamlesh replied: ‘In 1981, when we started marine archaeological explorations in 
Tamil Nadu, we began with Poompuhur. And we scanned the sea-bed using echosounder 
and magnetometer. What we found interesting was that otherwise the sea-bed was flat, 
even and smooth as far as the echosounder was concerned. But there were a number of 
anomalous features scattered in the area - some a bit oblong in structure, some like 
pinnacles - and the echosounder showed the elevation of these features to be in the 
range of 2 to 5 metres above the bottom. Such outcrops and elevations are not at all to 
be expected from local geology and we could not comprehend how they had been 
formed. If they are to be natural extensions of bedrock, then we should see different 
topography. For example, off the west coast of India we have found pinnacles or things 
like this because of a number of reasons, and we have collected samples and then done 
our investigations.’ 



‘And on the west coast they’re a natural extension of the rock?’ 

‘There are basaltic rocks,’ Kamlesh clarified, ‘which may have extensions. And we 
have found man-made structures underwater in the north-west like Dwarka which, as 
you know, have come in the last 5000 years ...’ 

‘But the story is different here on the east coast?’ 

‘This is totally different because we could not give any logical explanation for them. 
So even during those times we considered them as anomalous.’ 

‘So, looking at them as a geologist, as you are, you find it surprising that these 
features are sticking up if they’re purely natural?’ 

‘Yes,’ Kamlesh replied with a shrug. ‘Only thing during that time is we didn’t have 
support of diving team. So we could not collect samples and do analysis of the rocks. 
Even now when we collect it, we could not get the proper rocks for different kinds of 
test, so we don’t have samples enough to go to some logical theory on that.’ 

‘This U-shaped structure that we’ve just been diving on,’ I asked, ‘was it identified in 
that survey?’ 

‘Yes. And totally up to twenty structures were identified round about.’ 

‘But you’ve not had a chance to dive on the other ones?’ 

‘No,’ said Kamlesh, ‘we didn’t get the opportunity to come back and work like this. So 
maybe in future we shall come and concentrate on them. Then also we should seek 
information and try side-scan sonar surveys and diving to see if there are other 
structures in other areas along the coast. Because this one place may be in isolation. But 
if there are three or four other major groups of structures in other locations ...’ 

He looked out to sea and stopped speaking without completing his sentence. 

‘It feels to me like a very exciting area,’ I offered after a moment, ‘with so many, as 
you say, anomalous structures And they are anomalous. We don’t know what they are. 
But it seems to me an area that deserves more attention.’ 

‘Mysterious,’ Kamlesh replied after a moment more. 


The mound at 27 metres 

When we were parting company with our NIO friends well after nightfall on the 
darkened beach, Gaur took me aside to tell me that he had remembered a dive done 
during 1993 at Poompuhur that might be of interest to me. The dive had been a first 
exploration, never subsequently followed up, to check out one of the anomalous mounds 
in 27 metres of water - 4 metres deeper than the U-shaped structure. Gaur had not dived 
on this deeper structure himself but had been told about it by colleagues who had: ‘It 
was a heap,’ he said, ‘of things ... It’s quite high. I mean 2 metres high.’ 

‘Is it in the same general area as the U-shaped structure?’ I asked. 

‘No,’ Gaur replied. ‘It’s further out. A 4 metre difference in depth here means you have 



to go out at least another 500 to 600 metres.’ 

‘All the more obvious, then, that there’s a need for a really extensive survey and much 
more marine archaeology here ...’ 

‘I agree,’ said Gaur, ‘even if only to prove that these things are not man-made.’ 

Secrets of the Reinal map 

February/March 2001 

Readers will recall that three days before our dives at Poompuhur I had received an e- 
mail from my researcher Sharif Sakr concerning an intriguing Portuguese map - the 
Reinal map of the Indian Ocean, dated 1510. But not until I was back in England at the 
beginning of March did I have the time to consider in detail what Sharif had to say 
about it or compare his attached scan of the Reinal map and other maps that he 
mentioned with Glenn Milne’s sequence of inundation maps covering the end of the last 
Ice Age. 

Sharif Sakr to Graham Hancock 
23 February 2001 

Hi Graham, 

I’ve noticed an interesting correlation between the Jorge Reinal map of 1510 (see attached scan from facsimile in 
Hapgood, fig. 77) and Glenn Milne’s inundation maps of India. It is perhaps not immediately obvious, so please let 
me know what you think. (There is a good facsimile of the Reinal 1510 in vol. 1 of the Portugaliae Monumenta 
Cartographica in the Bodleian Library, Oxford and I’ve ordered a reproduction. Until it arrives we must rely on the 
tracing in Hapgood, which lacks detail but is basically accurate.) 

I was first attracted to the Reinal by its remarkable accuracy, and its obvious relationship to the Cantino 1502, 
and also the Ptolemaeus Argentinae 1513. While the map is not as accurate as the Cantino in terms of the ratio of 
India’s long and lat extensions, it is nevertheless an amazing development relative to the older Ptolemaic model, 
especially considering that Portuguese naval exploration of India only began after 1498. E. Kemp (Asia in Maps) 
suggested that Cantino’s depiction of India came not from Portuguese observation but from contacts with the 
traders of Calicut - perhaps Reinal’s map of India was based on the same sources (and perhaps these sources were 
the Indian Ocean nautical charts mentioned by Polo?). 

Despite the map’s general accuracy, there are a number of glaring mistakes. Firstly, at the precise latitude of the 
mouth of the Indus there is a large gulf rather than the delta which exists today. Secondly, moving south along the 
map, Reinal makes the same mistake as the author of the Cantino, and fails to show the important Kathiawar 
peninsula or the gulfs (Kutch and Cambay) that flank it. Instead, Reinal has given this north-west corner of India a 
distinct bulge, such that it appears ‘fatter’ than it should. Thirdly, Reinal has apparently ignored the proper 
portolan convention of depicting very tiny islands (too small to be drawn to scale) as crosses (or some other 
diagrammatic symbol) and has instead drawn the Lakshadweep and Maldives as rather large islands - far larger than 
they really are. Lastly, Reinal has failed to give the southern tip of India its proper south-easterly orientation. 
Instead, he has given it a south-westerly orientation, and distinct Tips’ which make it look like an open mouth, 
ready to bite off the top of the Maldives. 



INDIA 


Gulf at 



North-western bulge 

Fnlaigrd 
Lakshadweep 
islands ~o 


hp / 

Shallow* 


Enlarged 
Maldi VM 
island* 


Outline of India’s coastlines in Jorge Reinal’s map of ad 1510 , based on tracing by Charles Hapgood (1966). 



Outline of India’s western coastline as it was 21,300 years ago. 


While these deviations are all errors relative to a modern map of India, they in fact match up extremely well with 






Glenn Milne’s map of India 21,300 years ago at LGM. This inundation map shows a large indent at the mouth of the 
Indus, a bulge obscuring completely the Kathiawar peninsula, enlarged Lakshadweep and Maidive islands, and, most 
surprisingly, a SW-pointing ‘mouth’ shape at India’s southern tip that is virtually identical to that shown by Reinal. 
(Note that the ‘errors’ match up even better with a basic bathymetric map of India that shows the very distinct 
outer shelf, which I use as a kind of benchmark for the basic shape of India’s coastline around LGM.) As you travel 
in time through the sequence the correlation is still good 16,400 years ago but is gone by 13,500 years ago when a 
large island appears south of the Kathiawar peninsula. 

The correlation is not perfect - the inundation maps show a clear land-bridge between India and Sri Lanka, 
whereas Reinal has not drawn a land-bridge. Being Portuguese and living during the exciting time of the Portuguese 
discovery of India, Reinal would have been a laughing stock if he’d failed to depict the island of Ceylon. Curiously, 
however, Reinal has drawn dots in the shape of the land-bridge across the Palk Strait, giving the impression that 
Ceylon is too close to the mainland. Perhaps Reinal was indicating dangerous shallows. But a glance at my 
bathymetry data suggests there are no such shallows - most of the Strait is over 6 m in depth. Alternatively, Reinal 
may have wished to indicate tiny islands, but even this would have been inaccurate, as the real distribution of 
islands in the Palk Strait today is nothing like the shape of Reinal’s dots or of the land-bridge that would have 
existed at LGM. So I wonder why Reinal drew these dots between India and Sri Lanka - was he perhaps trying to 
reconcile common knowledge of Ceylon as an island with other sources that depicted a land-bridge? 

A final point of interest is that as the years went on, after 1510, Reinal began to correct all the mistakes described 
above (for example he added the Gulfs of Kutch and Cambay). But as he made these corrections, the basic outline of 
India actually worsened rather than improved. To me, this suggests that the earlier 1510 map was based on the same 
unknown sources as the Cantino (very accurate in terms of long and lat, but with some strange features), whereas 
the later maps were based on contemporary Portuguese observational mapmaking and all its inherent weaknesses. 
Regards, Sharif 

Although Hapgood had reproduced the Reinal map, he had analysed it only from the 
perspective of its mathematics and inclusion of anachronistic geographical knowledge 

(e.g., of Australia, not discovered at that time). He had not considered the possibility of 
a correlation between the way in which it portrayed India and the actual appearance of 
the Indian coastline during the Ice Age. On the contrary, he concluded: 

It seemed evident to me that this map showed much more geographical knowledge than was available to the 
Portuguese in the first decade of the sixteenth century, and a better knowledge of longitudes than could be expected 
of them. The drawing of the coasts, however, left much to be desired. The map looked much like a map, once 
magnificently accurate, that had been copied and recopied by navigators ignorant of the methods of accurate 
mapmaking. 4 

So Sharif’s approach to the Reinal map did not duplicate Hapgood - something that I 
was determined to avoid - but looked at its depiction of India in the light of the new 
science of inundation mapping that had already provided us with an extremely effective 
and revealing research tool. 

I agreed with Sharif that in the light of that science Reinal had in fact drawn a 
weirdly accurate map of the south-west, west and north-west coasts of the Indian 
subcontinent between roughly 21,000 and perhaps 15,000 years ago. It was also 


potentially the strongest lead that I had seen for a long while on the extraordinary 
possibility that accurate maps could have been made of the world during the Ice Age 
and that some copies of these maps could have survived and got into circulation again - 
always in use and subject to constant modification - during the European Age of 
Discovery. 

Maps of the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. 

Maps of the Pacific and the Far East. 

Maps of the North. 

Maps of Africa. 

Maps of the Americas and the Atlantic - perhaps including the map, never found, that 
Columbus is rumoured to have used to guide his journey to the New World in 1492. 

Even maps of Atlantis ... 

I decided to investigate further. 

Cambay: another ghost rising from the deep? 

May 2001 

Our final filming trip to India, which would focus on Dwarka, and inland Harappan 
sites such as Dholavira in Gujerat, was scheduled for November 2001, still many months 
away. 

Then in May, although hardly reported at all by the international media, the 
following story made headline news in the Indian press: 

The Times of India 
Saturday 19 May 2001 

HARAPPAN-LIKE RUINS DISCOVERED IN GULF OF CAMBAY 

In a major marine archaeological discovery, Indian scientists have come up with excellent geometric objects below 
the sea-bed in the western coast similar to Harappan-like ruins. 

‘This is the first time such sites have been reported in the Gulf of Cambay,’ Science and Technology Minister 
Murli Manohar Joshi told reporters. 

The discovery was made a few weeks ago when multi-disciplinary underwater surveys carried out by the 
National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) picked up images of ‘excellent geometrical objects’, which were 
normally man-made, in a 9-kilometre stretch west of Hazira in Gujerat. 

‘It is important to note that the underwater marine structures discovered in Gulf of Cambay have similarity with 
the structures found on land on archaeological sites of Harappan and pre-Harappan times,’ Joshi said. 

The acoustic [sonar] images showed the area lined with well-laid house basements, like features partially covered 
by sand waves and sand ripples at 30-40 metre water depth. 

At many places channel-like features were also seen indicating the possible existence of possible drainage in the 



area, he said. 


Possible age of the finds can be anywhere between 4000 and 6000 years, Joshi said, adding the site might have got 
submerged due to a powerful earthquake. 

This guess seems perfectly reasonable in line with the orthodox chronology of Indian 
history and prehistory. But it is also perfectly wrong. 



Cross marks position of Cambay underwater site discovered by NIOT. 


What Joshi could not have known without studying inundation maps first is that 
earthquakes or not (and admittedly this part of India does suffer from severe 
earthquakes) no site anywhere in the Gulf of Cambay could possibly have been above 
water as recently as 4000 years ago - although 6000 years ago is getting closer. As we 
have seen, the Gulf of Cambay remained a valley until it was completely flooded by 
rising sea-levels at some point between 7700 years ago and 6900 years ago. 

Then we must consider the scale of the ruins that the researchers from the National 
Institute of Ocean Technology seem to have identified - this city that is now underwater 
extends continuously for 9 kilometres, meaning that it is many times larger than 
Harappa or Mohenjodaro or any other city of the Indus-Sarasvati civilization yet 
discovered. 

Think how long it takes to build a city 9 kilometres long. A long time, surely? So even 
if the Gulf of Cambay was flooded at the latest possible date indicated by Milne - 6900 
years ago - we cannot reasonably suppose that the construction of this enormous 
metropolis could have begun only one or two centuries before that. Surely it would 
require a millennium, maybe much longer, to build a city so big? 

But if we allow a millennium, then that takes us back to somewhere around 8000 
years ago - 6000 bc - as the very latest date at which the city beneath the Gulf of 
Cambay could have been founded. 

A city 9 kilometres in extent and more than 3000 years older than Harappa and 




Mohenjodaro would rewrite not only the history of the Indian subcontinent but of the 
world. 

It was the Holy Grail, all over again. 



PART FOUR 


Malta 



15 / Smoke and Fire in Malta 


Lord grant him eternal rest. 

SCICLUNA - commendatore salvino Anthony, passed peacefully away at St Luke’s Hospital on June 11, aged 73, 
comforted by the rites of Holy Church. 

Sunday Times of Malta, 18 June 2000 

There is nothing looking remotely like one of these temples outside the Maltese Islands. 


D. H. Trump 


8 November 1999 

Some months begin badly, then get worse. November 1999 was like that for me. 

It started when Horizon, BBC TV’s flagship science series, aired ‘Atlantis Reborn’ - a 

one-hour blitzkrieg on my character, my reputation and my work. 1 But life had to go on, 
and Underworld was not going to research and write itself. 

A central part of my research task, as I define it, is to check out personally -by scuba¬ 
diving - any and every sighting of anomalous underwater ruins that comes to my 
attention. On 8 November 1999, therefore, just four days after being blitzed by Horizon, 
a sense of duty compelled me to fly to Malta to follow up a story that was then 
circulating on the Internet. Accompanied by ambiguously blurry colour photographs 
captured from videotape, the story concerned the discovery - by a German named 
Hubert Zeitlmair - of a ruined megalithic temple 8 metres underwater off Malta’s north¬ 
east coast. 

I had contacted Zeitlmair, and Santha and I had arranged to meet him on our arrival 
in Malta later that afternoon. But now, as I passed the flight reviewing the thin file of 
documents I had downloaded to my laptop, I had to admit that the auspices were not 
encouraging. 


A joke or a hoax? 

For example, in various unexplained but worrying ways something called the ‘Palaeo- 
Astronaut Society’ was involved - thus virtually guaranteeing that the academic 
authorities would treat the discovery as a joke or a hoax, irrespective of any merit it 
might have. Moreover, it very probably was a joke! By this time I had done enough 
diving to know that 99.999 per cent of all mysterious ‘man-made’ structures sighted 
underwater prove to be just weird geology or tricks of the light combined with wishful 
thinking. Only a tiny fraction check out, and these are usually found by level-headed 
professional divers with no particular theories to promote. 

As he was presented on the official ‘Maltadiscovery’ website, Hubert Zeitlmair seemed 
the antithesis of all that. He was described, unpromisingly, as a ‘real-estate investor’, a 
‘part-time archaeologist’, and a ‘fan’ of author Zecharia Sitchin (who believes that extra- 


terrestrial beings had a hand in the construction of megalithic sites around the world). 
Perhaps this was why Zeitlmair had chosen to announce his discovery of the Maltese 
underwater temple ‘at a meeting of the Palaeo-Astronaut Society’ in his home town of 
Augsburg, Germany on 18 August 1999: 

The final dive that led to the discovery took place on July 13, 1999 at 10:00 AM; and subsequent dives and 
underwater photography confirmed the nature and megalithic size of the structures. 

The temple sits on an underwater plateau about 500 to 900 metres long. The lowest point of the plateau is more 
than 25 metres below sea level and the highest point of the plateau is about 7 metres below sea-level. 

The structure itself shows the same characteristics as the other above-ground temples on Malta. Gigantic stone 
blocks aligned with astronomical significance, thought to be used as a calendar. The basic diameter of the interior 
rooms are 6-7 metres and some of the highest walls that are still standing are about 4-6 metres high. There is an 
avenue that goes up the centre of the structure indicating an orientation to the equinoxes. There are kidney-like 
formed rooms orientated to an easterly direction, which would coincide with the rising sun and the winter or 
summer solstices. The main difference is this structure is underwater. 

Since the structure, as the others on Malta, had to be first built on solid ground, its present underwater position 
could result from either the sinking (due to earthquakes?) of coastal parts of the island, or from a marked rise in the 
sea-level (due to an immense flooding). 

Dr Zeitlmair adheres to the second possibility, and wonders whether the cause was the Great Flood described in 
the Bible and in the lore of many ancient peoples, the so-called Noah’s Flood. 

He is inclined to this explanation because the west side wall of the structure is more overgrown by sea grass than 
the east side wall, apparently because there was more sand deposited on that side. Therefore, the stones on the east 
side are mostly free of sea grass. This could indicate that the destructive water flow came from the west into the 
Mediterranean Sea, adding confirmation to theories that the water broke through the Strait of Gibraltar, filling the 
Mediterranean basin. A couple of big stones were lifted up and dropped down in a valley below, apparently by the 
destructive water flow. 2 

‘Great interest amongst foreign archaeologists 

The website also reprinted and translated a number of articles about 
had recently appeared in the press. I’d put these on to my laptop 
scrolled through them to see if they had anything to add. 

From II Mument (Maltese national newspaper), 31 October 1999: 

Recently, structures that resemble megalithic temples have been discovered on the sea-bed in Maltese waters. These 
are currently being studied to establish whether they are actually unique megalithic temples. 

This discovery has been considered to be of great archaeological importance, and has raised great interest amongst 
foreign archaeologists ... 

The discovery was made on the 13th of July 1999 at 10 a.m. and was photographed. The diver/cameraman who 
filmed the structures was Shaun Arrigo, while the photographer who took the photos was his brother Kurt... 


the discovery that 
as well and now 


So two Maltese diver-photographers, the brothers Shaun and Kurt Arrigo, had been 


involved with Zeitlmair in the discovery - and had in fact taken the blurry photographs 
that I had seen on the web. 

I would need to contact them. 

'The age for the megalithic temples must be changed 

What next? I scrolled quickly through another article in the file. It had appeared in the 
periodical Maltamag and contained an interview with Zeitlmair. But in the preamble 
written by reporter Daniel Mercieca, my eyes were drawn to this paragraph: 

During a meeting with Joseph S. Ellul, a Maltese who has dedicated his life to the study of prehistoric 
constructions, Dr Zeitlmair was shown a 1933 photo taken by the Royal Navy. This picture seemingly showed a 
megalithic construction below the surface. Ellul confided to Dr Zeitlmair that he had proposed to the local 
authorities concerned to start research on site. Unfortunately, his suggestion was never taken up, his numerous 
letters being left unanswered. 

In the interview Zeitlmair commented: 

Following my meetings with Joseph S. Ellul I strengthened my determination and contacted various people about 
the subject. This led to the formation of a team all set towards one goal - uncovering a temple under sea water. After 
several futile attempts at locating the site, success came on July 13th, 1999 at 10 a.m. Where exactly is the site of the 
discovery! 

It is located some mile and half off the Sliema coast ... Incidentally, when I first came to the islands, I was residing 
at the Diplomat Hotel in Sliema, where I occupied a room with a superb sea-view. Now that the temples have been 
located, I realize that the answer was lying under my nose for so long! 

What accounts for the site being underwater? 

Though further investigations have to be made, the Ice Age is most likely the correct answer to this. The last Ice Age 
ended around 13,000 years ago. Hopefully studies will prove that the ‘temples’ date back to that period. 

Could these findings change Malta’s history as we know it! 

Most certainly - and not only Malta’s! The age for the megalithic temples must be changed to 12,000 or 13,000 years 
ago. And the same applies to all the artifacts recovered from those periods. Malta may indeed prove that the earth’s 
history as we know it must be changed. 

Now I had a new name - Joseph Ellul - to add to the list of contacts who I would need 
to chase down in Malta, and new doubts about the exact provenance of whatever it was 
that had been discovered underwater off Sliema. For if the press reports were correct, 
then: (a) Zeitlmair had not shot the original video footage and photographs of the site 
(these were the work of Maltese divers Shaun and Kurt Arrigo); (b) Zeitlmair had got the 
idea for the location of the site from a Maltese prehistorian named Joseph Ellul; and (c) 
Joseph Ellul was in possession of an aerial photograph of the north-east coast of Malta 
that actually showed the location of the site about a mile and a half off Sliema ... 



'Confused 


The last article in my file was a sarcastic piece by Mark Rose in Archaeology, the journal 
of the Archaeological Institute of America. Entitled ‘The Truth, And Some Other Stuff, is 
Out There’ it made heavy weather of Zeitlmair’s ancient-astronaut enthusiasms and 
pointed out that: 

Chronology appears to be somewhat confused in Zeitlmair’s interpretation. According to the website, he sees links 
between the submerged ‘temple’ and both Noah’s Flood and the rise in sea-level following the end of the Ice Age. 
Furthermore, the presence of deeper sand deposits on the west side of the ‘ruins’, the side toward Gibraltar, than on 
the east side is taken as an indication that the flooding of the Mediterranean by Atlantic waters (which really did 
occur) was involved in the inundation of the ‘temple’. The Mediterranean flooding, however, took place some five 
million years ago. 

The Maltese Museum Department’s archaeology curator Reuben Grima has visited the site, and was unconvinced 
that the stones on the seafloor are indeed a temple, according to archaeologist Anthony Bonanno of the University of 
Malta. Bonanno himself is skeptical of the find, noting that even if there is a submerged structure it does not mean 
the temples need to be re-dated. 3 

Two more names for my list: Reuben Grima and Anthony Bonanno. 

The complete list now included Shaun Arrigo, Kurt Arrigo, Joseph Ellul, Reuben 
Grima, Anthony Bonanno. And, of course, Hubert Zeitlmair - whom Santha and I had 
arranged to meet in the coffee lounge of the Diplomat Hotel in Sliema soon after our 
arrival. 

Our plane was coming in over Malta now, gear down, ready to land. The island 
blazed white with reflected light from its limestone outcrops and cliffs. The sky was 
clear. The surrounding sea was deep blue and flat calm. Despite warnings that 
November is an unpredictable month in this part of the Mediterranean, I had every 
reason to hope that we might be able to dive the next morning and settle the matter of 
the underwater temple once and for all by thoroughly exploring and photographing it. 

But it wasn’t going to be quite as easy or as straightforward as that. 


Bird’s-eye view ... (1) 

Malta, 24 June 2001 

I’m on board a helicopter - an old Soviet Mi8 with masses of room inside for troops and 
great visibility out of the open door and rear window. It’s been converted for 
commercial use and I know for a fact that it served for several years as an air taxi in 
Bulgaria before ending up in Malta. Normally it flies passengers between Malta and 
Gozo but this afternoon, thanks to Channel 4, we have the exclusive charter of it for an 
hour. 

We take off from Luqa airport, hop straight up into the air 50 metres, circle widely, 


then head north-east across the township of Paola that separates two of Malta’s 
extraordinary prehistoric monuments - the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni (fully carved out 
of the living rock underground and thus not visible from the air) and the majestic 
Tarxien temple complex with its apsidal (‘kidney-shaped’) rooms, graceful spirals carved 
in relief, looming ‘mother-goddess’ figures and gigantic megaliths. 

Archaeological consensus dates Tarxien to between 3100 and 2500 bc while the 
Hypogeum is thought to be a few hundred years older - with parts of it perhaps going 
back as far as 3600 bc . 4 Such a range of dates ranks these structures amongst the very 
oldest examples of monumental architecture yet to have been discovered anywhere on 
earth. 

And the problem is that they are clearly not the work of beginners. The megaliths, 
some weighing 20 tonnes, perfectly balanced and integrated with one another in 
complex walls and passages, are hewn from the hard coralline and globigerina 
limestone with which Malta is plentifully endowed and which to this day affords the 
inhabitants their primary source of building materials. But now it is sawn up into 
manageable blocks weighing only a few kilos and barely half a metre in length. 

We continue north-east across Grand Harbour to hover at 200 metres above the 
fairytale city of Valletta. It is much younger than the temples, belonging in every sense 
to a different epoch of the earth, with most of its labyrinth of narrow alleyways and 
shadowed courtyards dating from the sixteenth century ad or later. Yet Grand Harbour, 
now gleaming with gantry cranes unloading great container ships, was once itself the 
site of a megalithic temple - the remains of which are believed to lie underwater, buried 

in deep silt and rubble, at the foot of Fort Saint Angelo. 5 According to an eye-witness 
report by Jean Quintinus, this prehistoric temple extended over ‘a large part of the 
harbour, even far out into the sea’ as late as ad 1536. In 1606 Megeiser could still see 
enough to note that it was constructed of ‘rectangular blocks of unbelievable sizes’. And 
even in the nineteenth century visitors reported ‘stones five to six feet long and laid 

without mortar’. 6 


Ghir ta' \ k 
C iheizu* . 

GOZO 



(>it;amija 





■s COMINO 



fc 

LU * 



7 Mfrirr 

Tal Qadi'' 

MALTA 


Skorl 

m sl 



] -Bahnu 

Mdm 

Valletta 



Zcbbufc* 

Hal Saflieni 
* * Tarxicn 

Modem cities 


^ llaKarUim 

Tas SI I** 

• Temples 


* Miuidra 


o smiles 




o 8km 


FILFLA 



That nothing is left of the temple today does not surprise me. Since my first research 
visit to Malta in November 1999 I’ve learned that objects - and even places - of 
archaeological importance can and do disappear here in mysterious ways. For example, 
ancient remains of an estimated 7000 people were found in the Hypogeum of Hal 
Saflieni, buried in a matrix of red earth, when it was excavated by Sir Themistocles 

Zammit at the beginning of the twentieth century. Today only six skulls are left, 
stashed out of public view in two plastic crates in the cavernous vaults of Malta’s 
National Museum of Archaeology. Nobody has the faintest idea what has happened to 

all the rest of the bones. They’ve just ‘vanished’, according to officials at the Museum. 8 

And the six skulls? After much pressure and protest I have been allowed to see them 
only this morning and they are - I must confess - extremely and unsettlingly odd. They 
are weirdly elongated - dolichocephalic is the technical term but this is dolichocephalism 
of the most extreme form. And one of the skulls, though that of an adult, is entirely 
lacking in the fossa median - the clearly-visible ‘join’ that runs along the top of the head 
where two plates of bone are separated in infancy (thus facilitating the process of birth) 
but later join together in adulthood. I should be paying attention to the fantastic views 
and seascapes unfolding beneath the helicopter but I keep on wondering: what would 
people with skulls like that have looked like during life? How could they have survived 
birth and grown to adulthood? And did the other skulls from the Hypogeum - the lost 
skulls, the lost bones - also show the same distinctive peculiarity? 

Still at 200 metres, the helicopter is now flying north-west from Valletta to Sliema, 
following the contours of the coast, taking me over waters that I’ve dived in many times 
since November 1999 following the trail of Hubert Zeitlmair’s elusive temple ... 




Hubertworld ... (1) 


Malta, 8 November 1999 

Zeitlmair met us, as we had arranged, in the coffee lounge of the Diplomat Hotel in 
Sliema. He proved to be a tall, rather dashing man in his mid-forties with long, well- 
groomed, salt-and-pepper hair, stylish clothes, a soldierly bearing and an impressive 
moustache. Within a few minutes it had also become obvious that he was severely sight- 
impaired, if not entirely blind, and he explained, without rancour, that this was the 
result of a viral infection of the eyes that he had suffered during a period of military 
service. 

I ventured that his disability must have made diving very difficult - when he was 
searching for the underwater temple. But he shrugged off my concerns. ‘Of course,’ he 
explained, ‘I didn’t dive myself. I wouldn’t have been able to see a thing. I guided the 
divers to the site and they went down to take the photographs and get the evidence.’ 

‘You mean Shaun and Kurt Arrigo?’ 

‘Yes,’ Zeitlmair exclaimed in the manner of a man suppressing a sneeze, ‘the Arrigos.’ 

Until that moment I thought I had come to Malta to dive with Hubert Zeitlmair, the 
discoverer of the submerged temple off the Sliema coast. Indeed, we had discussed the 
matter by telephone and he had confirmed that a boat and tanks for up to four dives 
had been arranged for the following day for that specific purpose. The fact that 
Zeitlmair himself turned out to be a blind non-diver did not necessarily jeopardize those 
arrangements, of course. Nevertheless, I thought it was time for some clarification. 

‘So well be diving with Shaun and Kurt Arrigo tomorrow?’ I asked. ‘They’re the ones 
who know the location?’ 

‘I know the location,’ asserted Zeitlmair into his cappuccino. ‘It was I who led the 
Arrigos to it in the first place ...’ 

‘No offence,’ - I had to ask - ‘but how did you do that? I mean, since your eyesight is 
so poor, how did you manage to lead them there?’ 

At this point Zeitlmair conjured from his briefcase a magnifying glass and a large 
black-and-white aerial photograph of the coast of Malta between Valletta and Sliema. 
As he rolled the photograph out on the table between us he said, ‘I was able to lead 
them to the site because of the indications ... here.’ Squinting his eye to the glass and 
lowering his head he eventually found what looked to me like a pattern of white dots on 
the photograph in an area of open sea north-east of Sliema. ‘This is the site of the 
temple,’ he announced. ‘The photograph was taken by the British Royal Navy some time 
before World War II. The sky and sea were exceptionally clear, and the site became 
visible to the camera through the water ... ’ 

Well ... Maybe. Or maybe it was just light reflecting off dust on the lens. 

‘Is this the photograph you got from Joseph Ellul?’ I asked 



‘Yes, from Ellul. That’s right.’ 

We then entered into a long, rambling, muddled discussion about who had discovered 
what. I was on autopilot through most of this, but the gist of it was Zeitlmair’s claim to 
have developed a theory concerning the locations of Maltese megalithic sites which 
predicted the presence of a structure underwater off Sliema. The theory had to do with 
the well-known ‘pairing’ of temples in Malta, one on high ground and the other in the 
valley below it (as is the case at Skorba and Mgarr, for example, or at Hagar Qim and 

Mnajdra). 9 To this day I cannot understand which temple exactly Zeitlmair has in mind 
for the high ground around Sliema, and I am not clear whether his theory takes into 
account the ancient traditions of a megalithic temple in Grand Harbour. Still, what he’s 
getting at is completely obvious: when sea-level was lower 12,000 or 15,000 years ago, 
the reefs around Malta, now submerged to depths of 100 metres or so, would all have 
been above water and the pleasantly sloping valley below Sliema might have seemed an 
ideal spot in which to build a temple. 

As Zeitlmair told it, he was already geared up to fund a diving expedition off Sliema 
in order to test this theory; indeed, had bought a flat in Sliema to use as a base for the 
expedition, when his providential meeting with Joseph Ellul occurred. Ellul showed him 
the Royal Navy photograph which, he was convinced, pinpointed the exact place off 
Sliema in which the expedition should dive - roughly 2.5 kilometres from land along a 

bearing 65 degrees north-east off Saint George’s Tower. 10 

‘Although the location is quite far from shore,’ Zeitlmair continued, ‘where the water 
is generally more than 40 metres deep, I reasoned that there must be some sort of reef 
or shallows there to show up so clearly on the photograph -maybe a little sea-mount, or 
something like that, a high point standing above the surrounding valley, just the sort of 
place the temple builders would have appreciated ... Then I hired the Arrigos to get me 
to the site in their boat and to search the bottom with an echo-sounder. I figured if the 
echo-sounder suddenly started giving shallow readings in an area of generally deep 
water, and if we were about 2.5 or 3 kilometres from shore, then we would have found 
the right place.’ 

I frowned: ‘But why did you need the echosounder? Surely a shallow spot like that 
would show up on nautical charts? If it’s charted you should be able to set a course 
straight to it. No need to search.’ 

Zeitlmair shrugged: ‘It is not charted ... But still it is there. You will see tomorrow.’ 


Bird’s-eye view ... (2) 

Malta, 24 June 2001 

The helicopter is at 200 metres, flying north-west from Valletta to Sliema about 1 
kilometre from shore. To our right is the open ocean - and somewhere out there the ‘sea¬ 
mount’ that shows up as a glimmer of pale dots on the Navy photograph. Was it ever a 


real place? Or just a trick of the light? 

Despite the bad start that I undoubtedly made with Zeitlmair and the Arrigos in 
November 1999, my confidence has been growing for more than a year now that there 
could, after all, be something solid behind all the rumours of an underwater temple off 
Sliema ... 


The case of Commander Scicluna 
Malta, 15 June 2000 

Joseph Ellul looks as old and as sturdy as a megalith, and his house in the sunlit village 
of Zurrieq is named after the nearby temple at Hagar Qim - to the study of which he has 
devoted most of his life. He speaks loudly, has certain eccentric mannerisms, and once 
launched on the subject of Malta’s prehistory increases enormously in size and becomes 
unstoppable. 

Ellul’s particular theory - based in some obscure way that I do not understand on the 
differential weathering-rates of coralline and globigerina limestone - is that the 
megalithic temples of his native islands were originally built more than 12,000 years 
ago by a prehistoric civilization, and were much later destroyed by the biblical deluge 
(which, he reckons, took place 5000 years ago]. Ellul sets out this theory in his 1988 
book Malta’s Prediluvian Culture at the Stone Age Temples - a book that has been entirely 
overlooked by archaeologists because of its cranky Creationist approach and 
unfortunate emphasis on an impossible mechanism for the deluge. This mechanism, in 
Ellul’s opinion, was a cataclysmic penetration of the Straits of Gibraltar by the Atlantic 
Ocean 5000 years ago, resulting in instant flooding, from the west, of the previously dry 
Mediterranean basin. Such a penetration (as Michael Rose points out in the journal of 
the Archaeological Institute of America cited earlier) did indeed occur - 5 million years 
before Ellul suggests. 

Other aspects of Ellul’s theory are less far-fetched and he has some well-reasoned 
arguments about flood damage at Hagar Qim - but this was not what I had come to talk 
to him about that day in June 2000 on the second of my three big research visits to 
Malta. Having failed to make contact with him in November 1999, I was here now 
exclusively to find out if he could shed any fresh light on the mystery of Zeitlmair’s 
missing underwater temple. It immediately became obvious, however, that Ellul did not 
regard the temple as in any way being ‘Zeitlmair’s’, or missing, and that he clearly felt 
aggrieved about how his own role in the discovery had been interpreted. 

Muttering in Maltese, he shuffled to a wardrobe positioned in the hall outside his 
kitchen and took down from it a rolled photographic print. It proved to be another, 
larger version of the aerial view of the Sliema coast that Zeitlmair had shown me the 
previous November. At the foot of it Ellul had drawn in a scale by hand and had typed 
the following legend: ‘Undersea Prehistoric ruins situated at Direction Bearing 65 



degrees NE of St George’s Tower, 2.5 kilometres from land at a depth of 25 feet’. 11 

I was puzzled by one of the figures and asked: ‘You got the depth from Zeitlmair, I 
suppose, after the Arrigos dived on the temple in 1999?’ 

Ellul favoured me with a sinister smile. ‘No,’ he replied, ‘I got the depth from another 
Maltese diver, Commander Scicluna, in 1994.’ 

He shuffled off and returned with a much marked and tagged copy of his book in 
which he had been incorporating corrections for a new edition. He opened the book and 
from a small stack of papers folded inside the front cover pulled out a press clipping. 
The clipping, from the letters page of the Sunday Times of Malta, was dated 20 February 
1994 and was a response to an article on the subject of sea-level rise that had appeared 
in the paper on 13 February 1994: 

SEA-LEVEL CHANGES 
From Comm. S. A. Scicluna 

the article ‘Sea-level changes of the past and present’ by Peter Gatt (the Sunday Times, February 13) indicates that 
Malta’s shores are going down at the rate of 2 mm a year ... This is taking place in many Mediterranean countries, 
especially in Sicily, which is very close to us. At Marsameni and Motya, the evidence is very clear because both of 
them are now underwater. 

In Malta this evidence is also clear. There are three sites which are now completely under water: the oil wells at 
Saint George’s Bay in Birzebuga (mentioned by P. P. Castagna in Malta u il-Gzejjer Tagha), a rock-cut tomb in 
Sliema (exactly like the ones in Bingemma) - this is now in 25 feet of water; and a prehistoric temple I located last 
summer under 25 feet of water, also at Sliema. 

I myself reported this find to President Tabone, to Dr Michael Frendo, Minister of Youth and Arts, and to Dr 
Tancred Gouder, Director of Museums. 

S. A. Scicluna, 

Sliema 

Commander Scicluna, eh? Another name for my list. Plus of course President Tabone, Dr 
Michael Frendo and Tancred Gouder. It would be interesting to learn if any of these 
three, presuming they were still with us, had done anything at all to follow up Scicluna’s 
claim to have found a temple underwater off Sliema. 

Because unlike Zeitlmair, whose zany associations with ancient astronauts must not 
be held against him - but who unfortunately could not dive - it transpired that Scicluna 
was an archaeological diver of some renown who had led several underwater 
expeditions and received commendations from the British Navy and from the British 

Committee of Nautical Archaeology. 12 When such a suitably qualified and experienced 
man chooses to state in a national newspaper that he has found a prehistoric temple 
underwater, it is appropriate that he be taken seriously. 

But had he been? After parting company with Ellul and returning to the flat that 
Santha and I had rented that June, I tried directory inquiries for Commander Scicluna’s 


number. They couldn’t help me. Then I called Manjri Bindra, a friend of ours in Malta 
who is very good at finding people, and within an hour she had the number for me. 

I dialled and waited. There was a long delay, then a woman’s voice answered the 
phone: ‘Hello.’ 

‘Oh. Yes. Hello. Er ... My name is Graham Hancock. Is this Commander Scicluna’s 
residence?’ Another delay, then: ‘Yes.’ 

‘Oh, good. Look, I’m sorry to disturb you, but please may I speak to him?’ Silence. 

‘I’m an author,’ I gabbled, ‘I’m researching a book about underwater ruins, and I 
understand that Commander Scicluna is a great expert in this field. I would like to speak 
to him about a temple, underwater, that he discovered off Sliema ...’ 

‘I’m afraid that will be impossible.’ 

I was nonplussed: ‘Why?’ I protested. ‘I just need to speak with him for a few 
moments, to confirm something.’ 

‘I regret that my husband passed away four days ago’, the lady replied. 

Now, all at once, I understood the sadness and fatigue in her voice and stammered my 
apologies for disturbing her. 

‘It is all right’, she said wearily. 


Hubertworld ... (2) 

Malta, 9 November 1999 

Santha and I sat in the coffee lounge of the Diplomat Hotel in Sliema drinking 
cappuccinos with Hubert Zeitlmair. We had been there since 8 a.m.; it was now 9 and 
there was still no sign of the Arrigo brothers showing up in their truck to take us diving. 
This was annoying, as we were already partly dressed for the water, had our mesh bags 
packed at our feet, and could observe that the sea in which we had been expecting even 
now to be preparing to dive, was calm, windless and generally perfect for our 
enterprise. 

‘I don’t understand it,’ Zeitlmair was saying. ‘We had a firm agreement that they 
would pick us up this morning at eight. Everything was arranged. I spoke with them 
myself just yesterday.’ 

We had already tried to phone the Arrigos’ dive shop, and their mobiles, but without 
success. Admittedly it was still early, but it was odd that they were so uncontactable - 
and so not here. Was Malta going to be a bust? I was beginning to think so. Because, 
after all, even if an underwater temple did exist at Sliema, why should the Arrigos take 
me to it? In the event that it was archaeologically important, then it was sooner or later 
going to become a hot media property; meanwhile, the Arrigos’ interests, and the 
interests of the site, might be best served by keeping its location confidential. 



It was obvious even then that the matter of ‘proprietorship’ was far from settled. 
Zeitlmair had a strong claim, to be sure, but it was by no means free of encumbrances - 
and who was to say that he would ever be able to relocate his ‘temple’ should the 
Arrigos decide not to cooperate? Even in the best circumstances objects found 
underwater are easily lost again unless accurate shore-bearings have been taken from 
the boat - impossible for the blind - or a GPS has been used to record the precise 
latitude and longitude of the entry point. 

‘Do you have GPS numbers for the site?’ I now asked Zeitlmair. 

‘No,’ he confessed, ‘but I told you already it is very simple to find it. We just go out 
2.5 or 3 kilometres from Saint George’s Tower and use the echo sounder ...’ 

‘Until we come to a reef that is shallower than the surrounding water?’ ‘Exactly. Then 
we will be on the spot.’ 

Around 11 a.m. we finally managed to get a call through to Shaun Arrigo’s mobile 
phone. 

It transpired that the two brothers and their father - who ran the diving business 
together - were on a boat off Gozo and would not be back in Malta until the evening of 
the following day. Although they knew of me and my visit, they claimed that no 
arrangement whatsoever had been made by Zeitlmair for them to guide me to the 
underwater temple that morning, and that they wanted to meet me first in order to 
discuss the matter further before deciding whether they wished to guide me at all. 
Besides, it was the law of the land that I should be certified medically fit by a Maltese 
doctor before I would be allowed to dive in Maltese waters. Had I yet obtained such a 
certificate? No? Then that too needed to be arranged. They proposed that I call round to 
their dive shop in two days time, on 11 November, to see if we could ‘work things out’. 

Silently fuming at myself for not having dealt directly with the Arrigos from the 
beginning in a matter as important as this, I turned to Zeitlmair: ‘Are you sure you can 
find the site again?’ 

‘Sure!’ he barked. 

He did sound sure. 

‘OK, then, Hubert, here’s what I suggest we do ...’ 


Bird’s-eye view ... (3) 

Malta, 24 June 2001 

We’ve left Sliema behind and now the helicopter is rushing rapidly west along the north 
coast of Malta. Dropping our altitude to 100 metres, we soar over White Rocks and head 
for Qawra Point - a finger-shaped promontory dividing Salina Bay from Saint Paul’s 
Bay. 

There we circle and hover above the spot in the sea where two days before Chris 



Agius, a new friend who has come to our aid in Malta within the past month, led us on a 
dive to a remarkable straight canal cut out of the solid limestone of the sea-bed at a 
depth of 25 metres. A low bridge, also hewn out of the bedrock, spans the canal at one 

point, and Chris has identified tool marks on its inner walls ... 13 

We fly on, crossing Saint Paul’s Bay and Mellieha Bay, crossing the Gozo Channel 
from Cirkewwa with the tiny midway island of Comino to our right. And I remember 
that here, too, somewhere in the channel between Malta and Comino, a prehistoric 
stone circle is rumoured to exist. In fact it is rather more than a rumour, since I have 
talked directly with one of the commercial divers who saw the structure before - as he 
claims - it was buried by developers beneath concrete pilings ... 

It would not be the first time in Malta that an archaeological discovery has been 
conveniently hushed up to allow a construction project to go ahead. The same thing 
happened at the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni, which was entered and looted by labourers 
renovating houses above it at the end of the nineteenth century at least three years 
before archaeologists ever learned of its existence. The initial discovery was very 

deliberately not reported to the authorities for fear that they would sequester the site. 14 


Hubertworld ... (3) 

Malta, 9-10 November 1999 

After the failure of communication over our dive plans with the Arrigos for the 9th I felt 
superstitious. I therefore made the decision to hire a boat and dive support from another 
dive shop and mount an entirely new search for the underwater temple without the 
Arrigos’ help. Zeitlmair agreed and issued several more cheering statements to the effect 
that he would lead us straight to the spot, having got the Arrigos there before without 
any difficulty, etc.... 

In character with the general pattern of annoyance and frustration that seemed to 
have draped itself around me that November, I then took our business to a dive-shop 
staffed by pessimists and safety fanatics who began issuing dire warnings about the 
weather, and various dangers associated with diving in Malta in the winter months, 
virtually from the moment that I walked in their door. 

It took all of the rest of the 9th to sort out the medical certificates, find and hire the 
right type of boat, and tie up the arrangements for dive assistance the next day. 

But the 10th dawned grey, stormy and windblown, with white-caps breaking out in 
the open sea in front of Sliema. Santha and I looked gloomily at the waves from our 
balcony in the Diplomat Hotel and decided that we would chance it. We had dived in 
worse. And the boat that we had hired was a 50 foot motorized lutzu (traditional 
Maltese fishing vessel) that should, in theory, be able to handle these conditions without 
too much difficulty. We might take a bit of a pounding getting back on board after each 
dive, but that was acceptable. While we were submerged we should face no problems. 


Our new dive suppliers did not agree. What if there was a current and we were to get 
swept away from the boat? It was sturdy but not very fast and in high seas it might lose 
us completely. Sliema was not some enclosed bay, after all. The next landfall was Sicily, 
90 kilometres to the north. 

More badgering followed along these lines and I was eventually obliged to concede 
that diving was probably not a very good idea that day ... 


Bird’s-eye view ... (4) 

Malta, 24 June 2001 

Our hour in the helicopter is rapidly ticking by. We’ve passed Comino and hover over 
Gozo’s Mgarr Harbour before heading into the heart of the island. There, south of 
Xaghra - itself the site of a huge semi-subterranean stone circle - is the necromancer’s 
castle, the ‘Giant’s Tower’ of Gigantija, the greatest and the oldest of the megalithic 
temples of the Maltese archipelago, reckoned to have been built around 3600 bc. 

Looking down on it from above, I am struck not only by its enormous size but also by 
the way in which it faithfully and exactly reproduces what may be thought of as the 
‘canon’ of all the Maltese megalithic temples - an outer retaining wall of cyclopean 
blocks, some up to 5 metres high and many in the range of 15 tonnes or more, set out in 
a series of expansive, graceful curves to enclose an irregular space that feels more 
organic than architectural. This inner space contains a series of altars, shrines and large 
apsidal rooms interconnected by axial passageways, all of which are also lined with 
huge megaliths of mixed coralline and globigerina limestone. 





Floorplan of Gigantija temple. Based on Evans (1971). 


Unlike other simpler temples, Gigantija features two distinct and not quite parallel 
axial passages oriented east of south which dominate the whole complex. By means of 
imposing stone gateways, each of these passages penetrates a concave megalithic 
fagade defining the only two ‘entrances’ to the structure. The easternmost axis leads to 
four large apsidal rooms arranged in two pairs of opposed lobes. The westernmost axis 
leads to five apses - two arranged as an opposing pair and the remaining three in the 
form of a clover-leaf. 

Orthodox scholarly opinion holds that the islands of the Maltese archipelago remained 
entirely uninhabited until 5200 bc - 7200 years ago - when they were settled by Neolithic 

agriculturalists from nearby Sicily. 15 

Orthodox scholarly opinion dates Gigantija to 3600 bc 5600 years ago. 

The time lapse between settlement 7200 years ago and the construction of Gigantija 
5600 years ago is 1600 years. And while there is evidence of small-scale construction 
and the hewing out of rock tombs in the Maltese islands during this period, there is 
nothing from the excavation record that archaeologists are able to show us which in any 
way seriously charts the evolution of the temple-building phase. On the contrary: 

The temple builders did not begin with small-scale structures. Gigantija ... is a tremendous work of architectural 
design and of engineering, built a thousand years before the date usually given for the Great Pyramid. 16 

To this Colin Renfrew, Professor of Archaeology at the University of Cambridge, adds: 

The facade [of Gigantija], perhaps the earliest architecturally conceived exterior in the world, is memorably 
imposing. Large slabs of coralline limestone, set alternatively end-on and sideways on, rise to a height of eight 
metres; these slabs are up to four metres high for the first course, and above this six courses of megalithic blocks 
still survive. A small temple model of the period suggests that originally the facade may have been as high as 16 
metres. 17 

Cyclopean walls 16 metres high? At first sight, admits Renfrew, 

it seems inconceivable that such monuments could be built without the organization and the advanced technology 
of a truly urban civilization ... Yet according to the radiocarbon chronology, the temples are the earliest free¬ 
standing monuments of stone in the world. In the Near East at about this time, 3000 bc and perhaps even earlier, the 
mud-brick temples of the ‘proto-literate period’ of Sumerian civilization were evolving: impressive monuments in 
themselves but something very different from the Maltese structures. 18 

How are we to explain the fact that the oldest free-standing stone monuments in the 
world, which by virtue of their size and sophistication unambiguously declare 
themselves to have been built by a people who had already accumulated long experience 
in the science of megalithic construction, appear on the archaeological scene on a group 
of very small islands - the Maltese archipelago - that had not even been inhabited by 


human beings until 1600 years previously? Isn’t this counter-intuitive? Wouldn’t one 
expect a ‘civilization history’ to show up in the Maltese archaeological record 
documenting ever-more sophisticated construction techniques - and indeed wouldn’t one 
also expect an extensive ‘civilization territory’ capable of supporting a reasonably sized 
population (rather than tiny barren islands) to surround and nourish the greatest 
architectural leap forward of antiquity? 

Dr Anton Mifsud, President of the Prehistoric Society of Malta, who we will be hearing 
from a great deal in the coming chapters, offers this succinct summary of the problem: 
‘Malta is presently too small in size to have sustained the earliest architectural 

civilization; its civilization territory is missing.’ 19 

We circle over Gigantija one more time, then bank sharply to the south-east, cross the 
Gozo Channel again and hover over a rugged spot called Marfa Point at the extremity of 
the main island of Malta. 

Here, underwater, two days previously, we saw further strange channels cut in the 
rock, some running in distinctive parallel tracks, leading to the edge of a drop-off at 8 
metres. Beneath the drop-off we were shown a terrace of three large right-angled steps 
cut into the interior of a cave at 25 metres. 

Could the ‘civilization territory’ of Malta be missing because it is now underwater? 


Hubertworld ... (4) 

Malta, 11-13 November 1999 

I didn’t keep the loose appointment that I had made to try to ‘work things out’ with the 
Arrigos on 11 November, but I also did not go diving that day; 2 metre waves whipped 
up by the strong prevailing wind from the north-east still prohibited that. 

On the 12th and 13th, however, much to the astonishment of our pessimistic dive 
hosts, the north-easterly lulled, the angry seas subsided and we were able to take the 
lutzu out and begin searching with the echo-sounder for Zeitlmair’s uncharted sea-mount 
between 2.5 and 3 kilometres from shore. 

Within an hour of zigzagging back and forth across water generally 40 to 70 metres 
deep we suddenly stumbled upon a shallow point where the echo-sounder gave a depth 
of just 7 metres - more or less exactly as Zeitlmair had promised. It was with the air of a 
man vindicated, therefore, that he stood by beaming short-sightedly as the lutzu was 
anchored and we prepared to dive. 

But we couldn’t find his temple - only a series of disparate features that in some way 
resembled, but did not actually seem to be, the features that Shaun Arrigo had videoed a 
few months previously in July 1999. 

I felt incredibly disappointed, crushed and depressed after those dives, which had 
seemed so promising initially, and began to believe that we might never find the site if 


we went on this way - for the same reason that the man on the beach can never count 
all the grains of sand. By close of business on the 13th, therefore, I had decided to set 
pride aside, go back to the Arrigos cap in hand, and beg them to take me to their - or 
Zeitlmair’s - or whoever the hell’s temple it was. 

In my opinion no one owned the temple ... if it existed at all. I certainly had no desire 
to own it or lay any kind of claim to it. I just wanted to dive it. 


Reuben Grima’s short dive in a thunderstorm 
Malta, 19 June 2000 

The ‘Zeitlmair file’ in my laptop during my first visit to Malta in November 1999 had 
contained a report from the journal Archaeology that seemed to write off the significance 
of the underwater temple right from the start. According to that report Reuben Grima, 
archaeology curator at Malta’s National Museum, had dived at the Sliema site and was 
‘unconvinced that the stones on the sea-floor are indeed a temple’. Quoted alongside 
Grima was Professor Anthony Bonanno of the University of Malta, who made the point 
that even if a ruined temple had been found underwater, its submersion did not 

necessarily mean that all Maltese temples had to be redated. 20 

Bonanno’s observation was completely correct. It would be necessary to establish the 
mechanism of submergence of the site (land subsidence versus sea-level rise) before 
jumping to any conclusions about the age of any structures on it - and this had not been 
done yet. On the other hand there would be little point in establishing anything at all 
about the site if the ‘megaliths’ and ‘kidney-shaped rooms’ that had been seen and 
photographed there were not in fact parts of a temple at all but just natural formations 
that had been misinterpreted by excited amateurs - as Reuben Grima seemed to have 
concluded after his dive. 

In November 1999 I had been too depressed to do anything much but stubbornly and 
repeatedly go diving myself in the cold waters off Sliema - trying to get some hands-on 
experience of the structure so that I could form my own opinions. I hadn’t contacted 
Reuben Grima then, so he was still on my agenda when I returned in June 2000 to 
resume the dive search. 

I had arranged our appointment for 19 June - rather than any other day - with a 
certain ulterior motive. Santha and I wanted permission to be inside the ‘lower temple’ 
at the megalithic site of Mnajdra at dawn on the 20th, the summer solstice and the 
longest day of the year. Reuben Grima was one of the few people who had the power to 
grant this very rare privilege - and he did so with good grace and one telephone call to 
supervisory staff at Mnajdra. ‘I understand the effect is spectacular,’ he said with a 
smile, ‘but you should be there before 5 a.m. The watchmen will be expecting you ...’ 

I told him that I wasn’t any kind of archaeologist, just a popular writer, so he should 
excuse me in advance if I seemed ignorant of archaeological procedures and facts or if I 


asked naive questions. There was, however, something bothering me about the dating 
and ‘sequencing’ of the megalithic temples of Malta within the period 3600 to 2500 bc, 
and the dating of the first human habitation of Malta to 5200 bc. ‘How have you arrived 
at these dates?’ I asked. 

As I had been expecting, Grima explained that the primary tool in establishing Malta’s 
prehistoric chronology had been radiocarbon-dating (based on the rate of decay of C-14 

stored in all formerly living matter). 21 My views about C-14 are on the record. 22 I think 
it should be only one amongst several tools and techniques brought to bear on the 
dating of megalithic or rock-hewn sites. It is a truism, but worth repeating nevertheless, 
that C-14 cannot date stone - only such organic materials as are found around or in 
association with stone ruins. It is an assumption (more or less safe depending on the 
stratigraphy and general circumstances of the site but still, at the end of the day, an 
assumption) that organic materials found close to megalith B or trilithon A or dolmen C, 
etc., do in fact date from the same period as the quarrying and erection of the megaliths 
concerned. 



To this extent the excavation of a megalithic site is a bit like a crime scene. If the 
scene has been properly protected from contamination and intrusive elements, then the 
results of any forensic tests are likely to be much more accurate and useful than they 
will be if the scene has been disturbed. C-14 dating is a forensic test. And looked at as 
crime scenes, Malta’s megalithic temples are pre-eminently ‘disturbed’ - since they have 
been used as quarries and goat pens by local farmers for millennia, in some cases 

arbitrarily reconstructed on a whim, 23 and dug over with great enthusiasm and little 
skill by amateur archaeologists for at least 200 years before the introduction of carbon¬ 
dating in the mid-twentieth century. 

But when I put these objections to Grima he brushed them aside: ‘Look, of course it’s 
possible that new evidence might yet be unearthed which would require some revision of 
our chronology for Maltese prehistory. But I think, after all these years and the 
application of so many eminent minds to the problem, that we’ve probably got things 
pretty well right. If we’re wrong it will be at the most by a few centuries, not by 
millennia. So we’re not expecting any big surprises.’ 

‘How many carbon-dated samples does the orthodox chronology here actually depend 




on?’ I asked. 

‘For the temples?’ 

‘Yes, and the Hypogeum too.’ 

‘Well, very few actually.’ 

‘Do you remember how many?’ 

‘Off the top of my head, I don’t. But I can easily check. I know it’s not a large 
number.’ 

‘And out of this not very large number of carbon-dated samples from the temple 
period how many were actually taken from underneath undisturbed megaliths?’ 

‘As far as I know none were,’ replied Grima. 

This seemed a good moment to turn the conversation to the subject of the underwater 
temple off Sliema. 

‘I understand you dived on it,’ I said. ‘What did you make of it?’ 

Grima raised his hands in a theatrical shrug: ‘Not very much. But then to be fair, I 
didn’t see it properly’. 

He had gone to the site with Shaun Arrigo, he explained, rather late one afternoon 
with a thunderstorm brewing. The conditions had looked bad. Moreover, Arrigo claimed 
not to be sure of the precise location of the ‘temple7. Then soon after they dropped into 
the water and began to look for it, Grima discovered that by mistake he had strapped on 
a half-empty tank. Bearing in mind the deteriorating surface conditions he had therefore 
been obliged to abort the dive after only ten minutes. ‘The visibility was awful,’ he 
added, ‘and we might not even have been in the right place, but what I saw looked like 
pretty much just ordinary sea-bottom to me.’ 

‘It might well have been. But the question is - was what you saw the same thing that 
Zeitlmair is claiming is a temple?7 

Grima clearly had some difficulty taking Zeitlmair and his ancient astronauts seriously 
and I could understand why he might be sceptical of any claims emanating from such a 
source. However, irrespective of his, or my, or anyone else’s views on Zeitlmair, I felt 
that the proposition of a submerged, man-made prehistoric structure off Sliema was an 
eminently testable hypothesis which could be proved or disproved empirically by diving 
on it, thoroughly photographing it and collecting samples. 

Grima’s ten minutes in a thunderstorm didn’t even begin to qualify as a test. So no 
matter how wacky its proponents might seem to be, the hypothesis that a temple could 
be there had still not been refuted as far as I was concerned. Besides, there had been 
nothing wacky about Commander Scicluna. 

As I was leaving his office at the National Museum in Valletta, I asked Grima if he 
was aware that six years before Zeitlmair, Scicluna had also reported the existence of a 
megalithic temple underwater off Sliema, and at pretty much the same depth. 

Grima said he knew nothing of the case and asked me to whom it had been been 



reported. 

‘To Tancred Gouder, amongst others. I understand he was Director of Museums at that 
time. Scicluna mentioned the discovery in a letter to the Sunday Times of Malta in March 
1994. I’m really surprised it wasn’t followed up ...’ 


Bird’s-eye view ... (5) 

Malta, 24 June 2001 

We’ve left Marfa Point and are flying over the sea parallel to the wall of sheer cliffs, in 
some places hundreds of metres high, stacked up along the western coast of Malta. I’m 
told that these cliffs exist because this side of the island has been slowly but steadily 
rising over several millions of years as a result of geological upheavals along the 
submarine Pantalleria Rift - levering itself up out of the sea-bed at an annual rate of a 
millimetre or two and causing the eastern side of the island, by the law of equal and 

opposite force, to tilt downwards. 24 That means that the Sliema coast, with its rumours 
of an underwater temple, has experienced some degree of submergence during the past 
17,000 years not only on account of rising sea-levels at the end of the Ice Age but also 
because of the longer-term process of land-subsidence that is still underway today. 

We skip over Paradise Bay and then, in quick succession, Anchor Bay, Golden Bay, 
with its beach umbrellas and racks of lobster-pink tourists, Ghajn Tuffieha Bay and 
Gnejna Bay. Then we turn inland over the Bahrija valley and the Wied ir-Rum with the 
twin medieval towns of Mdina and Rabat to our left and the sea to our right. 

Malta’s landscape is everywhere rugged and stony, sliced through with plunging 
valleys, crumbling escarpments and dark defiles - a racked and tortured topography 
twisted, moulded and scoured out by extreme natural forces over aeons. It is easy to 
overlook the implications of so much rocky ruggedness and drama being compressed 
into such a small space, but as Anton Mifsud explains: 

The present surface area of the Maltese islands is not sufficient to account for the extensive valley formations such 
as the Wied il-Ghasel, Wied il-Ghasri and Wied ix-Xlendi, amongst others. The creation of such deep and 
precipitous valleys would have required a very extensive land surface to hold the waters which dug them out over 
the millennia. 25 

And Mifsud is right. The Maltese archipelago was once much bigger - indeed so much 
bigger that it wasn’t an archipelago at all. Around 17,000 years ago, at the Last Glacial 
Maximum when sea-level was more than 120 metres lower than it is today, the three 
main islands of Malta, Comino and Gozo, as well as little Filfla in the south, were all 
joined into one landmass, itself joined by a wide and extensive land-bridge to Sicily 90 
kilometres to the north - which was in turn joined to the ‘toe’ of the Italian mainland. 
Glenn Milne’s inundation maps, as we shall see in chapter 19, leave no doubt about the 
overall picture while more detailed bathymetric studies reveal the antediluvian central 
Mediterranean to have been an area of potentially enormous interest to the story of 


human civilization that has been almost entirely neglected by the responsible scholars. 


Hubertworld ... (5) 

Malta, is November 1999 

Malta is a small place, word of the search that Zeitlmair and I had been conducting off 
Sliema had got around, and I used the same lutzu and crew for diving with the Arrigos 
that I had used to try to locate ‘their’ site with a competitor dive-shop just a couple of 
days previously. None of this heavy-handedness helped to promote good relations, and I 
am certain that Shaun and Kurt Arrigo, and their father whose name I presently forget, 
must have regarded me as an entirely unpleasant and untrustworthy customer and a 
complete idiot into the bargain. 

We spent the 14th engaged in angry discussions, recriminations and speeches of self¬ 
justification but on the 15th we went diving. Kurt couldn’t make it, nor could Arrigo 
senior, so I dived with Shaun Arrigo, who looks like a pirate. He is young - about thirty 
and physically fit, with long black hair, a hawk nose, hooded eyes and seven days of 
stubble. To my surprise, however, he claimed that he was not sure of the exact location 
of the site and that we would have to search for it. With a sense of deja vu I stood by as 
the boat zigzagged back and forth over a range of depths, bearings and distances from 
shore with Shaun Arrigo repeatedly asserting that the site was not as far out as Zeitlmair 
still believed. 

‘Well, how far out is it?’ I asked. 

‘Three kilometres,’ interjected Zeitlmair. 

‘One kilometre,’ insisted Arrigo. 

We used the echosounder to chart the bottom at both distances and at all points in 
between, but couldn’t find the right profile anywhere. Meanwhile, the weather, which 
had been calm a little earlier, had changed character, assuming an ominous tone as 
clouds massed overhead. Beneath the keel of the lutzu all of us could feel the long rolling 
upsurge of a heavy swell - more scary in a way than breaking waves because of its aura 
of suppressed violence and power. The waters that had been blue just half an hour 
before were now transmuted to dark grey, almost black, and the air temperature had 
plunged. Even wearing a wetsuit I shivered. The shoreline between Sliema and Saint 
Juliens seemed far off across the heaving sea. Was I seriously planning to dive in this? 

Then the captain called out from the cabin that the echosounder was giving a depth of 
20 metres ... 19 ... 18.5 ... 18 metres. 

‘We’ll go in here,’ yelled Arrigo, peering wildly over the side and already strapping on 
his tank and BCD. 

I hurried to follow suit while the boat was brought to a standstill. By then, however, 
we had drifted off the 18 metre contour and the captain announced that we were now in 



between 25 and 30 metres of water. 


‘We’ll go in here,’ Arrigo repeated. ‘If it’s the right place well find that the reef slopes 
up fairly steadily from 25 metres to 7 or 8 metres. All we should have to do is follow the 
slope of the reef as it gets shallower and that will bring us to the plateau where the 
temple is ...’ 

‘But what if it isn’t the right place?’ I asked plaintively. 

Shaun Arrigo clasped his mask and regulator to his face, jumped overboard and 
disappeared silently beneath the waves. 


Bird’s-eye view ... (6) 

Malta, 24 June 2001 

The helicopter passes above Dingli now, where the golfball domes of a modern radar 
station overtop the steep cliffs. Then we come to a sloping area of exposed limestone 
between Buskett Gardens and the sea. Approximately 2 kilometres square, it is incised 
with a tremendous network of curving parallel tracks - one of the few surviving 

tableaux of Malta’s famous ‘cart-ruts’. 26 

I have walked here several times during previous visits in 1999 and 2000 and know 
that the ruts are often sheer-sided, sometimes a metre or more deep and up to two 
hands-breadths wide at the base. Nicknamed locally ‘Clapham Junction’, the area is 
preserved as a tourist attraction today. And as we hover 120 metres above it - I can see 
that it does indeed resemble a junction point where multiple railway lines converge and 
diverge. Some of the pairs of tracks run straight; some curve; some cross over one 
another. But there is no particular sense of organization or pattern - which is one 
among many reasons why no universally accepted explanation of this peculiarly 

Maltese phenomenon has ever been given. 2 Archaeologists don’t even have a clue how 
old the ‘ruts’ are, although it is certain that those at Clapham Junction were already in 

place 3000 years ago when datable Punic tombs were cut through a number of them. 28 It 
is certain, too, that they were not simply worn away in the tough limestone by the 
passage of cart-wheels over periods of centuries, as many have wrongly theorized; on 
the contrary, there is no proof whatsoever that cart-wheels ever ran in these ruts - which 

were initially carved or cut out of the bedrock with the use of tools. 29 Some 

archaeologists associate them with the megalithic temples; 30 others believe that they 
date from the Bronze Age, between 4000 and 3000 years ago after the culture of the 

temple-builders had collapsed. 31 The truth is nobody really knows anything at all about 
what they are, or who made them, or when, or why. 

As with so much in Maltese prehistory their origins may belong in an underworld that 
scholars do not seem anxious to explore. However the existence - to which we can now 
attest with photographs and film - of ‘cart-ruts’ on a gigantic scale underwater at Marfa 


Point raises the possibility that this phenomenon may have much older origins that any 
scholar has previously suspected. 


Hubertworld ... (6) 

Malta, 15 November 1999 

I jumped immediately after Shaun Arrigo but he was already far below me and it took 
me a moment or two of hard finning to catch up with him. Contrary to the indications 
of the echo-sounder - unless we had already been carried far from our entry point by 
what was proving to be quite a brisk current - the bottom here was deeper than 25-30 
metres. In fact, as we continued to sink, it became clear that it was deeper than 40 
metres ... 

Arrigo was a strong swimmer and I found it hard to keep up with him, but we forged 
ahead against the current until we did finally encounter a reef of bedrock gradually 
sloping up from 30 metres or so through 28 metres, then 24 metres, before levelling off 
into what seemed to be a vast submarine plain covered with undulating fronds of 
seagrass, at about 22 metres. Because of the stormy overhead light, visibility at this 
depth was poor - like diving at dusk - and even if the plain did lead to an eminence at 
some point it was obvious that we would only stumble across it by chance. 

Besides, we had been down for quite a while now, quite deep - 38 metres at the 
outset, then a long hard swim for twenty minutes or so at between 30 and 22 metres. I 
checked my air pressure gauge and found, as I had expected after burning so much 
energy, that I was already below 100 bar on what was only a moderate-sized 12 litre 
tank. Another 50 bar - definitely less than twenty minutes at this rate unless we got into 
shallower water - and I was going to have to ascend, allowing enough air for at least a 
five-minute rest-stop (and preferably a bit more) at 5 metres. Arrigo seemed to be 
making a personal statement of some sort by staying ahead of me in the water at all 
times so I couldn’t see his guage. But I could be reasonably sure that his air consumption 
would be better than mine, since he was twenty years my junior and dived for a living. 

We swam on for a while at 22 metres, still against the current, then I caught up with 
Arrigo with another titanic effort, grabbed one of his fins to get his attention, showed 
him my guage - now down to 70 bar - and signed that I was going to start doing this 
dive in shallower water. 

He indicated that he preferred to stay deep for a bit longer - making the ‘search’ 
signal as he did so. 

Hmm ... Interesting ... 

Very slowly, remaining parallel with Arrigo but now above him, I began to ascend. 

I realized that I was exhausted, almost gasping for breath as though the wind had 
been knocked out of me, but my ego would not allow me to show it or make any sign of 
distress. So I tried to relax, calm my breathing, reduce my heart-rate. Like other bad, 



fruitless dives that I had done, I told myself, I was going to get through this one. 

I did the rest-stop and had 50 bar left when I reached the surface - all fine and 
orderly. No panic. The only problem, as I looked around from the peaks and valleys of 
the billowing waves upon which I now bobbed like a cork with my BCD fully inflated, 
was that there seemed to be no sign at all of the lutzu. 

I couldn’t see it anywhere. It had gone. 

Moments later, blowing like a seal, Arrigo joined me from the depths with 70 bar on 
his gauge. So at least I would have someone to talk to while I waited to drown or die of 
exposure. 


Bird’s-eye view ... (7) 

Malta, 24 June 2001 

We’re still hovering over Clapham Junction while Colin Clark, the Channel 4 
cameraman, and Santha with her Nikons continue to occupy the open door and window, 
trying to get clean shots of the cart-ruts to compare with what we have seen underwater 
at Marfa Point. 

The complicated question of which parts of the island are rising and which are sinking 
because of activity along the Pantalleria Rift must, of course, be factored into the 
equation along with sea-level changes - but theoretically it ought to be possible to 
calculate a fairly accurate date for the submergence of the Marfa Point ‘ruts’. That 
would then give us a terminus ante quern for the cutting of the ruts by human beings - 
i.e., we could be sure that the ruts had been cut before the date of their submergence 
and must therefore be at least that old. 

Interestingly, Anton Mifsud’s tireless research in the archives has unearthed an 
obscure account published in 1842 of the travels in Malta of a certain Dr J. Davy, who 

observed cart ruts between Marfa and Wied il-Qammieh in northwest Malta, and from their interrupted nature at 
the edge of the cliffs, inevitably concluded that the Maltese islands had once been significantly larger during the 
presence of man in Malta. 

Now it may well be that the submerged ruts we’ve dived on off Marfa Point will 
ultimately prove to pose no problem to orthodox chronology. That is perfectly possible 
if land subsidence has been the major factor in their inundation. But even so, they 
should be seen in context of the wider phenomenon of submerged ruts - contiguous to 
many different stretches of the Maltese coast - which have been reported in the past. 
Indeed, Anton Mifsud demonstrates that ‘before their gradual disappearance over the 
past few decades’ the ruts were ‘repeatedly and validly associated’ by scholars and 

travellers with a former extension of Malta’s landmass. 33 ‘In several maritime sites 
around the island of Malta,’ wrote Sanzio in 1776, ‘one could see deep cart ruts in the 


rock that extended for long distances into the sea.’ 34 And in 1804 De Boisgelin believed 
he had found evidence that: 

Some serious disruptions and subsidings have taken place on the island ... An extraordinary subsidence ... must 
have occurred on the coast not far from the pleasure grounds of Boschetto [Buskett] ... on the southern side of 
which vestiges of wheels have cut into the rock, and may be traced to the sea ... and the ruts may be perceived 
underwater at a great distance, and to a great depth; indeed as far as the eye can possibly distinguish anything 
through the waves ... 35 

Father Emmanuel Magri, the first official excavator of the Hypogeum at Hal Saflieni, 
recorded the presence up until the end of the nineteenth century of cart-ruts on the tiny 

uninhabited island of Filfla 36 - which lies some 5 kilometres south of the twinned 
megalithic temples of Mnajdra and Hagar Qim in the same general area of Malta’s south 
coast. And in 1912, R. N. Bradley commented on cart ruts near Hagar Qim - noting that 

they ran ‘over the precipitous edge of the cliff towards Filfla’. 37 In subsequent years the 
ruts in both places have been completely obliterated (in the case of Filfla by sustained 
naval bombardments - the island was for a long while a favoured spot for target- 
practice). Nevertheless, as Mifsud observes, the combined effect of Magri’s and Bradley’s 
testimony is to suggest that cart-ruts once ran all the way from Hagar Qim to Filfla 
passing across a land-bridge that has therefore been submerged since human beings first 

came to the islands. 38 

In what he would be the first to admit is an untested hypothesis, Mifsud proposes a 
cataclysmic collapse of the Malta-Filfla land-bridge as a result of rifting processes in 
relatively recent prehistory - just over 4000 years ago - and he links this hypothetical 
cataclysm with the seemingly abrupt demise of the temple-building civilization of Malta 

around 2200 bc 39 

We have finished our work at Clapham Junction and the helicopter is now running 
east at 150 metres along Malta’s south coast between Ghar Lapsi and the Blue Grotto. 
To our left, nestled into the slope of the island, is the colossal edifice of Mnajdra and 
above it on the hilltop stands Hagar Qim. To our right, across the open waters of the 
Mediterranean, is Filfla. 

No diving is presently allowed around Filfla, and the entire area has been designated 
a closed nature reserve. But I can’t help wondering - what lies beneath those waters 
other than unspent ordnance from the years of bombardment? Could there be the 
remains of a lost civilization there? Perhaps on the sea-bed between Hagar Qim and 
Filfla - as on the sea-bed off the Qawra and Marfa Points and off Sliema too - some of 
the mysterious antecedents of Malta’s extraordinary temple-building culture are waiting 
to be found? 


Hubertworld ... (7) 


Malta , 15 November 1999 


The lutzu was there after all, but it had drifted far away. It was obvious, since we could 
hardly see it, that Santha and the others on board certainly could not see us, especially 
when the swell carried us down - as it often did - into deep troughs in the waves. I 
knew that Santha would be beginning to be concerned by now, although she might not 
be expecting us to surface for some minutes yet if she had been assuming a shallower 
dive than we had in fact made. 

Time passed and the sea was getting higher. Arrigo and I bobbed a few metres apart, 
beginning to feel cold, not talking because that required energy. Although my BCD was 
fully inflated, I found that I was constantly inhaling sea-water as waves splashed into 
my face or rolled me momentarily under. At the same time I found myself reluctant to 
take air through my regulator from the miserable 50 bar or less that was left in my tank; 
I might need that for a real emergency. 

We tried waving - futile, of course in waves so high. We tried blowing the pathetic 
little whistles that manufacturers attach to BCDs and that cannot be heard at 5 metres if 
there’s a wind blowing. There was a wind blowing. 

Then Arrigo connected up a power-whistle that had been concealed in an emergency 
kit somewhere on his person to the inflator hose on his BCD and pressed the button. For 
two seconds the air was filled with an ear-splitting howl that could have been heard on 
the other side of the island. Then the noise suddenly stopped. 

Arrigo cursed: ‘Not enough pressure. It’s supposed to work down to 50 bar.’ 

There was no sign of the distant lutzu charging course. If they had heard us it had not 
been long enough to get a bearing. 

‘But you’ve got 70 bar,’ I pointed out. 

Arrigo shook his head. ‘Don’t think so. Maybe a faulty guage. How much do you 
have?’ 

‘Less than 50 bar.’ 

‘Shit! Still, give it a try and see what happens.’ 

I took the whistle from him, connected it to my inflator hose, pressed the button. 
Nothing. 

‘Shit.’ 

We decided that we had better start swimming towards the shore, which by now 
seemed tremendously far away - had a current been carrying us out to sea all along? 
After ten minutes of effortful paddling, however, it became obvious that we had made 
no forward progress at all. 

I floated on my back to catch my breath and, on the off-chance, decided to try the 
power whistle again. This time it worked at full blast and I kept the button pressed for 
several seconds, joyously observing as I did so that this time the lutzu was turning 
towards us. For a moment the whistle stopped, then started again, and I got three more 



good blasts out of it before it packed up completely. But the emergency was over. We’d 
been spotted and, after some manoeuvrings, were recovered into the lutzu from the 
increasingly wild sea. 

Back on board, still in my wetsuit and drinking hot tea, I did not realize how close our 
escape had really been until I saw the massive Valletta-to-Gozo car-ferry bearing down 
relentlessly on our last position in the water before the recovery. 

We had been snatched out of its path with just a few minutes to spare. 


Bird’s-eye view ... (8) 

Malta, 24 June 2001 

After the helicopter has made the run over the Ice Age valley long since inundated by 
the waters of the Mediterranean that once plunged between the two high points of 
Hagar Qim and Filfla, we circle back to take a closer look at Hagar Qim and at its 
‘paired’ temple Mnajdra. 

In total the remains of twenty-three megalithic structures classified by archaeologists 
as temples have been found in Malta - of which, according to Dr David Trump’s 
authoritative Archaeological Guide, 

six stand alone, ten are in pairs, and there is one group of three and one of four. Five more structures of similar type 
have irregular plans, and there are at least twenty scatters of megalithic blocks ... which could represent the last 
vestiges of former temples ... It is on the whole unlikely that many more remain to be discovered. The number 
destroyed without trace we shall never know. 40 

All the temples were supposedly built between 3600 and 2500 bc , 41 with the bulk of 

the work completed before 3200 bc . 42 The best known on the tourist circuit today are 
Gigantija on Gozo, and Tarxien, Hagar Qim and Mnajdra on Malta. Other important 
temples, though smaller and less often visited, include Mgarr and Skorba, Tal Qadi and 
Bugibba. In a peculiarly Maltese compromise, the latter, near our dive site at Qawra 

Point, has been engulfed and partially ingested by the modern Dolmen Hotel. 43 

The pilot holds the helicopter stationary over Hagar Qim, giving us a bird’s-eye view 
of its impressive perimeter megaliths, which include one 7 metres high that is estimated 

to weigh more 20 tonnes. 44 As at Gigantija the shape of the temple is defined by 
graceful curves and re-entrants and it contains a series of paired apsidal rooms, also 
lined with megaliths. From above, the oval arrangement of the apses make them seem 
almost like enormous eggs lying in a huge stone nest and I am struck again by the 
strangeness and uniqueness of this design and by the odd fact, pointed out with some 
bemusement by David Trump, that ‘There is nothing looking remotely like one of these 

temples outside the Maltese Islands.’ 45 


We circle several times, then bank downhill towards the coast where Mnajdra lies - 
the last stop on our magical mystery tour. Although it is a spacious conglomerate of 
three temples (the ‘Small Temple’, the ‘Middle Temple’ and the ‘Lower Temple’), 
Mnajdra can at first sight seem almost inconsequential, tucked away as it is in rugged 
terrain against a hillside. The lower temple and the middle temple each have four of the 
characteristic megalithic apses arranged in two opposed pairs. The small temple is 
‘trefoil’ in plan - with three apses arranged like a three-leafed clover. 

I remember how, a year previously - on 20 June 2000 - I’d watched the summer 
solstice sunrise from within the lower temple at Mnajdra courtesy of Reuben Grima. It 
was then as the rays of the sun were projected on to a great megalith flanking the south 
side of the central axis that I understood for the first time how subtle and pure, how 
understated and yet how purposive, was the architectural genius of its builders. These 
people, who could achieve the most precise and painstaking alignments in the medium 
of cumbersome and gigantic stone, had not only been master architects and engineers - 
and first-class observational astronomers - but also excellent practical mathematicians 
and geometers. And all of this, presumably, had been harnessed to something else, some 
greater or transcendant objective that was somehow expressed in the temples. 

Our hour is nearly up. The pilot banks away from Mnajdra and we head back towards 
the airport. In the last few minutes of the flight I find myself returning to the basic 
conundrum that has exercised my imagination in Malta since 1999, when I first involved 
myself here. It’s the absence of background to the temples, the fact that they’re suddenly 
just there, almost ready-made - without any obvious antecedents. And the fact that 
ancient megalithic or rock-hewn structures appear to exist underwater at several points 
around the archipelago -suggesting an older episode of construction that prehistorians 
have not yet taken account of. 

Despite archaeological and C-14 evidence to the contrary, the existence of which I 
freely acknowledge, I think the time has come to consider the possibility that the origins 
of Malta’s megalithic temples and its mysterious Hypogeum might not be confined 
exclusively to the fourth millennium bc, as we have hitherto been taught, and that these 
amazing structures might have far older and far more mysterious roots. 



16 / Cave of Bones 


To sleep within the Goddess’s womb was to die and to come to life anew. 

Marija Gimbutas 

There are places in the world made by people gone before us - hallowed places, places 
of power - in which the art and architecture serve as mantras that dilate the spirit. In 
some cases it is possible to trace back a sacred history of the site that long predates any 
surviving structures and symbolism there - suggesting that we may be in the presence of 
something numinous in the location itself to which human beings of all epochs and 
faiths can respond. 

Without any intention of giving an inclusive list I might mention Chartres Cathedral 
and the prehistoric painted caves of Lascaux and Chauvet in France, Altamira in Spain, 
the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, the Temple of Seti I and the Osireion at Abydos in 
Upper Egypt, the Great Pyramid of Giza in Lower Egypt, the Bayon at the heart of 
Angkor Thorn in Cambodia, the Temple of Apollo at Delphi in Greece, the rock shrines 
of Mount Miwa in Japan, Machu Picchu in Peru, Stonehenge in England ... 

And the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni in Malta. 

Imagine yourself at the entrance to an underground labyrinth with a footprint of half 
a square kilometre in the horizontal dimension measured out across three irregularly 
shaped levels stacked on top of one another in the vertical dimension - and the whole 
plunged in sepulchral darkness. This labyrinth, descending into the bowels of the earth, 
is the Hypogeum. It is thought by archaeologists to have been created earlier than 3000 
bc. Some have speculated that its hive of interconnected chambers may first have begun 
to take shape naturally millions of years ago as solution cavities in the bedrock which 
were later expanded and reshaped by man. But the late J. D. Evans, formerly Professor 
of Prehistoric Archaeology at the University of London and a great authority on Malta, 
argues that the Hypogeum was entirely man-made from top to bottom and from the 
very beginning of the enterprise. Evans points out that even the crudest, most cave-like 
chambers exhibit certain features, ‘such as the clever use of natural faults in the soft rock 
to provide ready-made walls and ceilings’ that ‘point to a human rather than a natural 

origin’. 1 

There is controversy about the Hypogeum, as we shall see. But one matter about 
which there has been no disagreement is that the people who carved it out were the 
same people who built the great megalithic temples like Gigantija and Hagar Qim above 
ground on the Maltese islands. Even the general architectural style of the rock-hewn 
features within the Hypogeum self-evidently belongs to the same ‘school’ as the free¬ 
standing temples. Indeed, fragments of pottery from almost all the recognized phases of 
the temple-building period -and even from before it in the so-called Zebbug phase 

thought to date back to 4000 bc have been excavated from within the Hypogeum. 2 


MODERN FLOOR 


o. cdl 


~~ v ~^- 


o jo icei 

I-‘-»-<--*-^ 

o 10 m 



Hypogeum floorplan and cross-section. Based on Evans (1971). 


But next to nothing is known about the temple-builders themselves. We do not know 
what language they spoke. They have left us no script to decipher that might shed light 
on their rituals, customs, history and beliefs. There are no records elsewhere in the 
world from so ancient a period that refer to them. So their extraordinary works of art 
and stone that have endured the passage of the ages are now the only means we have to 
access all that is most interesting about them - in other words, their religious and 
philosophical ideas and the level of intellectual development of their culture. 

The spaces within the Hypogeum, like the clover-leaf lobes of the megalithic temples, 
feel womb-like rather than strictly ‘architectural’. 

Some of the chambers were washed from top to bottom in red ochre, enhancing the 
organic effect. 

Others were gracefully painted with spirals, disks, volutes, honeycomb-patterns, 
animal figures, hand-prints and ideograms - the majority in red ochre, a few in black 
manganese dioxide pigment. 

Here a cavernous circular hall was hewn out of the bedrock. 

There a ‘window’ was cut at eye-level into the wall of a passage and then an area 
beyond was hollowed out with infinite care to create an ovoid cist about the height of a 
man that can only be accessed through the window. 

A few paces to the west along the same wall, an elliptical hollow a metre deep was 
carved. It eerily amplifies low-pitched voice tones while absorbing higher notes like a 
sponge. 

Over here a graceful gallery was hewn. 

Over there the rough, blank face of the bedrock was first chiselled into a sweeping 
curve, then carved and penetrated to create a lintelled megalithic gateway leading to 
further galleries beyond. 

The lintel was painted with a pattern of twelve disks in red ochre. 

Above, ceilings were cut here so lofty that they recede from view and there so low 



that you must stoop to pass beneath them. 

Below, the floor was left rough in places, chiselled smooth in others, treacherous curbs 
and drops were created, and a stairway descending into the lowest depths was left 
hanging in mid-air after six steps down with a straight fall of 2 metres below it. 

Altogether thirty-three major ‘rooms’ have been defined within the labyrinth. Of these 
eight are on the upper level, nineteen on the middle level and six on the lowest level. 
Some of the rooms have as many as four subsidiary chambers branching off them and 
multiple entrances and exits connecting to the wider network weaving through the 

entire edifice. 3 

The result, in the end, as we may still experience it, is a surreal underworld of 
stairways and chambers, galleries, pits, and tunnels interconnected with sinuous 
passages and shafts - like a game of three-dimensional snakes and ladders. 


‘No special importance was attached to it 

I have explored the Hypogeum twice. 

The first time was in June 2000 when it had been closed to the public for almost a 
decade (as with my entry to Mnajdra at dawn on the summer solstice in the same year, 
this private visit was arranged at short notice, courtesy of Reuben Grima of the National 
Museum). 

My second opportunity came when I was in Malta in June 2001 with the Channel 4 
film crew. Although the Hypogeum had been reopened by then, we were allowed to 
work in it out of hours under the benign supervision of Joe Farrugia, the curator. 

There is ambiguous evidence that someone, or several people, might have entered 
some parts of the Hypogeum in the nineteenth century, and possibly even earlier in the 

seventeenth century, 4 but the official story today is that it was discovered in 1902 after 
being sealed off for millennia. Two blocks of houses were being built on the land 
immediately above it in the township of Paola. Bell-shaped water-tanks cut out of the 
bedrock were a standard feature of Maltese homes of the period and the discovery was 
made by construction workers cutting one such tank. They broke through into a rock- 
hewn chamber below the cistern and from there were able to enter ‘the main halls of the 

monument’. 5 Subsequently other parts of the Hypogeum were also exposed as more 
cisterns were cut: 

The builder did not report his discovery to the authorities immediately, but used the underground chambers as 
handy dumping grounds for stones and debris to save himself the trouble of carting away the useless material. When 
the houses were ready the owners in a casual way informed some Government officials of the existence of the 
Hypogeum. The place was visited, but being full of rubbish and swamped with water no special importance was at 
first attached to it. The Government, however, appointed a Committee to report on the discovery, and in 1903 the 
place became Public Property. 6 


The doctor and the Jesuit 


The first scholar to visit the Hypogeum was the eminent Maltese medical man and 
polymath, Dr A. A. Caruana, who spent 29 December 1902 there at the request of the 

British authorities. Caruana was not able to excavate, merely inspect, but he 
commented particularly on a rather macabre sight. The lowest level of the underground 
labyrinth proved to contain ‘a great quantity of human skulls and bones ... heaped over 

each other and at random’. 8 

In 1903 official excavations started under the supervision of Father Emmanuel Magri, 
a Jesuit priest and one of the members of the management committee of the Valletta 
Museum. Magri began by sinking a shaft deep into the rock to create the modern 
entrance to the Hypogeum in its middle level. All the rubbish left behind by the builders 
was then removed via this shaft. After that followed tonnes of ‘dark dank earth’ that 
seemed to have been deposited throughout the structure at some time in antiquity. 
According to contemporary observers, this deposit was uniformly ‘full of fragments of 

bones, pottery and other small objects’. 9 The pottery and small objects were saved; the 
bones were placed in a heap for daily disposal by the works foreman and never heard of 

again. 10 Thus began a story of neglect, muddles and bizarre losses of prime 
archaeological evidence from the Hypogeum - a story that continues to the present day. 

Soon after clearing the central chambers, Magri was called away by the Jesuits to 
save souls abroad and died suddenly at Sfax in Tunisia in 1907. He had not yet 
published any report on his work in the Hypogeum and the notebooks that he was 
known to have kept in which he had recorded the details of his excavations mysteriously 

disappeared after his death. 11 Perhaps the Jesuits have them. 

The consequence at any rate, as David Trump admits, is that though most of the 
objects and pottery excavated by Magri have been preserved, ‘no record of their context 

or associations survives’. 12 Since full details of provenance are essential if an informed 
archaeological judgement is to be made, or a chronological sequence proposed, the 
value of the finds is thus greatly reduced. 


The godfather 

After Magri came Themistocles (later Sir Temi) Zammit, the renowned ‘godfather of 
Maltese archaeology’, who was at this time Curator of the Valletta Museum. His careful 
and systematic excavations at the Hypogeum removed the remaining deposits uncleared 
by Magri, including the bone-filled earthy mass in the lowest storey which Caruana had 
noticed in 1902. The nature of this mass was described at some length by Zammit in the 
official report of his excavations published in 1910: 

A dark compact deposit was found which showed nowhere signs of having been disturbed. In this old deposit no 
stratification was observed and in caves which were cleared inch by inch, the deposit was always of the same type 


and contained objects of the same quality. The deposit of the large caves, about a metre in depth, was made of the 
red earth one finds in our fields and in this, bones and potsherds were intimately mixed ... disjointed and confusedly 
massed ... Very few bodies were found lying in a natural position and no special arrangements such as trenches, 
sepulchres, stone enclosures etc., were met with, anywhere, intended to receive a body. 13 

For example in one cave: 

Not a single [skeleton] was found lying with bones in position ... At least 120 skeletons were buried in a space of 
3.17 by 1.2 by 1 m. This is enough to show that a regular interment was out of the question as not more than 12 
bodies could be laid in such a limited space. 14 

In a separate publication in 1912, coauthored with T. E. Peet and R. N. Bradley, Zammit 
confirmed that: 

No complete skeletons came to light, and the bones lay in confusion through the soil as in the rest of the Hypogeum, 
except that occasionally an arm with fingers, and a complete foot, and several vertebrae would be found lying with 
the parts in situ. From the upright position of an isolated radius it might be judged that the filling up of the cave 
was of a wholesale nature, rather than that individual burials took place in it ... unrelated bones and also 
implements were found in the interior of skulls ... Animal bones were found mingled with human. 

Altogether, Zammit calculated, the skeletons of somewhere between 6000 and 7000 

individuals lay tangled and mashed up together within the Hypogeum. 16 One of his 
students, W. A. Griffiths, who wrote a report on the excavations in National Geographic 
magazine in 1920, put a higher figure on the record: 

Most of the rooms were found to be half filled with earth, human bones and broken pottery. It has been estimated 
that the ruins contained the bones of 33,000 persons ... Practically all were found in the greatest disorder ... 17 

Let’s assume Griffiths’ figure, not repeated elsewhere in the literature, is a mistake 
and stick with the lower total of 6000 to 7000 individuals. What were they doing there? 
And how (other than with howls of outrage and disbelief) are we to receive the official 
admission, already reported in chapter 15, that almost none of this vast horde of 
prehistoric bones has been preserved? Professor J. D. Evans was by no means 
overstating the gravity of the matter when he described the disappearance of the 

remains as ‘an irreparable loss to Maltese archaeology’. 18 And that was in 1971 when 

the National Museum still had eleven of the Hypogeum skulls in its possession. 1 By 
2001, as we’ve seen, only six were left. 


Travel plans 
June 2000 

I first went to Malta in November 1999 because of the rumours of an underwater temple 
off Sliema reported in chapter 15. My dives that November were arduous and 


unproductive. But I kept an open mind and determined that I would return the 
following summer in better weather. I rarely plan things far in advance, but it was 
obvious that we should be there in June, and very specifically around 21 June - the 
summer solstice - in order to see the wondrous light effect, contrived by the ancients, 
that occurs at sunrise at the megalithic temple of Mnajdra. At least that was a sure 
thing, and worth making the journey for in its own right, even if the diving turned out, 
as I feared it would, to be a bust for the second time running. 

Since solstice alignments usually work equally well on 20, 21 and 22 June (the sun’s 
rising point in the east and setting point in the west hardly change at all during the 
entire three days), Santha and I scheduled to be at Mnajdra on the 20th and then to fly 
on to Tenerife in the Canary islands to observe some more solar magic on the 21st - this 
time at sunset - that had been reported in a group of mysterious pyramids in the little 
town of Guimar recently excavated by the explorer Thor Heyerdahl. We would meet 
Heyerdahl at Guimar for the very first shoot of my Channel 4 TV series on the 21st. 
Afterwards the film crew would return to England but Santha and I would stay on in 
Tenerife for a few days to check out claims by local divers to have seen ‘strange things’ 
underwater at several points around this volcanic Atlantic island - including ‘towers 
made of huge blocks of stone’ and a cross (also ‘huge’) formed by two straight channels 
intersecting at right angles and seemingly carved into a lava flow on the sea-bed at 27 
metres. 

From Tenerife the final leg of our June 2000 journey, now spilling into July, would 
take us to Alexandria in Egypt. There, as reported in chapter 1, we had arranged to 
meet Ashraf Bechai for 10 days of diving to see if we could relocate the parallel walls of 
giant regular blocks that he remembered seeing years before underwater off Sidi Gaber. 


A temple, or a tomb ...or something else? 

What was the Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni for? Presumably its makers must have had a 
specific function in mind when they invested so much time, energy and human labour in 
its creation. But what? 

J. D. Evans, the most influential of the group of archaeologists who made their names 
in Malta during the second half of the twentieth century, is reticent on this subject. 
Concluding a 15,000-word dissertation, which guides us through every room and 
corridor of the Hypogeum with all the verve, passion and originality of a refrigerator 
manual, he writes: ‘This completes the description of the monument. A few words must 
now be said about its nature and purpose. In later years Sir Themistocles Zammit was of 

the opinion ...’ 2( We then get a summary of Zammit’s opinions. In 1910, notes Evans, 
the great man had believed that ‘the Hypogeum was in part used as a sanctuary in 
which religious ceremonies were conducted, and in part as a burial place in which the 

bones of the dead were deposited after being deprived of the flesh’. 21 In later years, 
however, he 


was of the opinion that it was an underground temple, roughly analogous in function to the stone-built ones above 
ground, though perhaps also used for special initiation rites, and that only at some later time was it used for the 
burial of the large number of people whose remains were found in it. 

And what of Evans’ own opinion, set down in his authoritative 1971 survey, The 
Prehistoric Antiquities of the Maltese Islands: ‘In point of fact, there is no cogent reason 
against, and much evidence in favour of, the primary use of the Hypogeum as a place of 

burial. It is its use as the locus of a cult which, if anything, may be secondary ... ’? 23 He 
only momentarily allows himself to speculate, but when he does so he gets interesting: 

Even admitting that a certain amount of cult activity must have gone on in the inner halls of the Hypogeum, the 
number of persons involved must have been very small. The Hypogeum was at no time a place of public worship, 
as the stone temples seem to have been. Had it been so the smoke of the flares and torches necessary to provide 
adequate light must have stained and blackened the porous limestone of the walls and ceilings, whereas in fact no 
traces of this can be seen. The Hypogeum was in all probability never fully illuminated in antiquity? its 
magnificently carved and painted halls were perhaps only half apprehended in a flickering and uncertain light by a 
few privileged or dedicated persons ." 4 

Dr David Trump, another of the acknowledged experts on Maltese prehistory, 
speculates that the Hypogeum ‘began as a simple rock-cut tomb [and] became 

elaborated to include a funerary chapel at its heart’. 25 

Colin Renfrew, in Before Civilization, describes Hal Saflieni as ‘a great charnel house’ 
but also notes: ‘The main chamber has an imitation fagade which almost certainly 

mimics the temples above the ground.’ 26 

So some sort of a combination between a tomb and a temple, with perhaps just a 
smidgeon of dimly lit cultic or initiatory behaviour grafted on, seems to be a fair 
summary of the gamut of orthodox opinion as to the function of the Hypogeum. 


The Goddess and the Sleeping Lady 

Zammit, Evans, Trump and Renfrew do represent orthodox opinion on this matter. 
They’re the heavy hitters. Centre Court at Wimbledon. In their league only the late 
Marija Gimbutas, formerly Professor of European Archaeology at UCLA, takes a 
divergent approach - and even she does not question the basic, seemingly obvious, 
assumptions that the Hypogeum was used as a burial place and that rituals of some kind 
must have been performed within it as well. She likewise accepts, without examination, 

the orthodox chronology for the construction of the labyrinth (3600-2500 bc ). 2 For these 
reasons, though radical, her view is not so divergent from the mainstream position as it 
can sometimes appear. Rather, she works within the same framework but places less 
emphasis in her analysis on burial at the Hypogeum than on the cultic activities and 
initiation rituals that she believes were also performed there. 


Gimbutas, who passed away in 2001, is one of the leading proponents of an 
intriguing hypothesis about who was who and what was what in prehistory. It concerns 
the distinctive carved and/or painted figures of enormously fat women that have been 
found in many European Neolithic sites (c.7000-4000 bc) and the almost equally 
numerous and virtually identical examples going far back into the world of Palaeolithic 
cave art (the Venus of Laussel, c.30,000 bc; the Venus of Lespugue, c.25,000 bc, etc.). 28 
According to Gimbutas and others who have entered this fray, these figures are the 
symbols and representations of an archetypal ‘Mother Goddess’ figure - simultaneously 
the Goddess of Fertility, the Goddess of Death and the Goddess of Rebirth - whose 

worship was ancient and must once have been extremely widespread. 29 Whether we find 
her painted, carved in relief out of the rock wall of a cave (as in the celebrated example 
of Laussel), or in the form of a free-standing sculpture, the Goddess is usually 
represented as an imposing, hugely fat woman with dangling breasts, egg-shaped 
buttocks and bulging calves and forearms. It is therefore noteworthy that many figures 
exactly matching this description have been excavated from Malta’s megalithic temples, 
including two in repose - usually referred to as ‘the Sleeping Ladies’ - that were found 
in the Hypogeum itself. 

‘The Hypogeum’, notes Gimbutas: 

with its rooms painted liberally with red ochre wash, represents the Goddess’s regenerative womb ... An indication 
of the religious use of these womb-shaped chambers are the figurines of Sleeping Ladies lying stretched out on low 
couches, associated with two cubicles opening into the Main Hall. The more articulate one, known as ‘The Sleeping 
Lady of the Hypogeum’, is a true masterpiece. This generously rounded lady with egg-shaped buttocks lies on her 
side, asleep, almost visibly dreaming. Why is she sleeping in the tomb? One explanation is that this represents a rite 
of initiation or incubation. To sleep within the Goddess’s womb was to die and to come to life anew. The Sleeping 
Lady could also be a votive offering from one who successfully passed through the rite of incubation in the 
Hypogeum ... 30 

I have stood before the Sleeping Lady of the Hypogeum many times. Her exact 
provenance within the labyrinth is not as simple a matter as Gimbutas thinks because 
she was excavated by the ill-fated Father Magri. All we know, and that is hearsay, is 

that she was found in a ‘deep pit of one of the painted rooms’. 31 These days she occupies 
a glass case mounted on a slender plinth in a cubicle at the rear of the National 
Archaeological Museum in Valletta. The cubicle is dimly lit and the tiny clay figure, just 
12 centimetres long, seems to float in space, sleeping if she is sleeping, dreaming if she 
is dreaming ... 

But can anyone really claim to know what was in the mind of the prehistoric sculptor 
who moulded her from clay, arranged the pleats of her figure-hugging midi-skirt over 
her ample thighs, and positioned her in lifelike repose upon an oval couch with her right 
hand wedged under her ear for a pillow and her left arm draped forward, supported by 
her huge breasts? 


Now you see it, now you don’t 
Malta, 6-20 June 2000 

During the two weeks we were in Malta before the June 2000 solstice we devoted an 
intensive week to diving. A Maltese friend, George Debono, supplied the boat - a small, 
comfortable cabin cruiser that is his pride and joy - and he, his son Chris and his sister 
Amy spent days with us tracking back and forth on the thankfully calm seas off Sliema. 
Dive support, tanks and refills were provided by Andrew Borg, a friend of George’s and 
a top-flight diver who worked with us untiringly. We were lucky enough to have with us 
from Britain Tony Morse, a professional geologist and a PADI dive instructor in his own 
right. And Hubert Zeitlmair was on board as well, his confidence renewed each morning 
as we set out that that this would be the day on which we would relocate his missing 
underwater temple. 

But we never did. We dived and dived and dived again yet we could not find it - as 
though it had dissolved in the sea or, like some magical castle, had the power to appear 
and vanish, appear and vanish ... 

In the Grail Castle Parsival fails to ask the right question and the Fisher King and his 
Knights and all the maidens of the procession, and the Holy Grail itself, and the castle 
too disappear without a trace. Was that what I did off Sliema? Did I fail to ask the right 
question? 

I had certainly become over-focused on Zeitlmair’s notion that his temple was on a 
sea-mount 3 kilometres from shore. That, at any rate, is what I kept us looking for, even 
though I remembered Shaun Arrigo insisting the previous November that the site he had 
filmed for Zeitlmair was not 3 kilometres out but just 1. I would have liked to conduct a 
thorough search at both distances. But the problem was that I could only afford to 
devote a few days to speculative diving around Malta - a week at the most - and it 
made better sense to investigate one area well than two areas badly. So I had to 
gamble. One kilometre or 3? 

I liked the level of conviction Zeitlmair radiated that the temple ruins stood on a 
shallow spot surrounded by deep water and I felt reasonably confident that such a place 
(with or without a temple on it) did exist off Sliema. Part of it was the possible 
uncharted reef on the Royal Navy aerial photo that Zeitlmair had shown me at our first 
meeting in the Diplomat hotel. And more provocatively, although it is difficult to judge 
distances accurately at sea, the very first of my November 1999 dives seemed to have 
been in exactly the right place on a reef with exactly the right profile - which, 
unfortunately, I had not searched properly. 

So surely all we needed to do was find that reef a second time, which shouldn’t be too 
difficult, I reasoned, since we’d already found it once - get its GPS bearings and then 
search it thoroughly from end to end until we came to the temple. 

But neither the temple nor the uncharted reef wanted to be found twice - at any rate 



obviously not by us. We abandoned the diving on the 14th. On the 15th I met Joseph 
Ellul and saw his original of Zeitlmair’s aerial photograph and the press-clipping that he 
kept of Commander Scicluna’s modest 1994 report of having found a temple underwater 
off Sliema. And this shifted my perspective on the whole problem. Because nowhere in 
Scicluna’s understated letter to the Sunday Times of Malta had he said what distance 
from the shore he had been diving at when, in his own words, he had located ‘a 
prehistoric temple ... under 25 feet of water ... at Sliema’ (see chapter 15). It was 
Joseph Ellul’s lively mind that had put the two things together - on the one hand, 
Scicluna’s testimony and, on the other, the general location off Sliema of the ‘reef’ 
indicated in the aerial photograph - and it was Joseph Ellul who had concluded, not 
necessarily correctly, that the temple Scicluna had seen must be located on that reef. 
Zeitlmair had then taken the inquiry to the next logical stage by hiring the Arrigos to 
dive the site for him by proxy. And lo and behold, when they had done so they had 
found and filmed something that looked quite a lot like a temple. 

But the opportunities for miscommunication between Zeitlmair with his heavily 
accented German English and the Arrigos would have been legion and the whole 
business of agreeing on the exact area in which to pursue the search would have been 
doubly complicated by Zeitlmair’s blindness. Now, over two seasons, I had looked where 
Zeitlmair had said I should look, and dived where he had said I should dive - pretty 
thoroughly, I should add - and had failed to find his temple. 

Was this because it wasn’t there? I would have thought so if it hadn’t been for 
Scicluna’s letter. Or was it because we’d been looking in the wrong place? Maybe 
Zeitlmair and I should have listened more carefully to Shaun Arrigo in November 1999 
when he’d insisted that the site was just a kilometre from shore. 


More Fat Ladies 

If the Sleeping Lady is a form of the Goddess then it is probably significant that two 
such figures were found in the Hypogeum while none have been found elsewhere ... But 
other ‘Fat Ladies’ - sitting down or standing up, sometimes miniature and sometimes 
carved on a fairly grand scale out of limestone - were found by the excavators at all the 
major megalithic temples of Malta. The original of one of these sculptures, from Tarxien 
(a replica remains on site at the temple) has been moved to the Museum and dominates 
the room next door to the two Sleeping Ladies. This obese figure is reckoned by Colin 

Renfrew to be ‘the earliest colossal statue in the world’. 3 David Trump believes that she 
must surely, from her ‘size and position’, be ‘the Goddess herself’. 33 

When complete she stood about 2.75 metres high, but time, weather and above all the local farmers have reduced 
her to waist height ... She wears a very full pleated skirt. It would be ungentlemanly to quote her hip 
measurements, and her calves are in proportion. She is supported, however, on small, elegant but seriously 
overworked feet. 34 


The section of the Museum overlooked by the Tarxien colossus is lined with long glass 
panels. Arranged behind these, like Bangkok prostitutes, a harem of Fat Ladies in 
varying stages of undress lounge and slouch - all of them disconcertingly headless 
(although no significance should be placed on this since the evidence suggests that the 
heads have simply been lost with the passage of time). 

The group includes figures from the temple of Hagar Qim thought to date to around 
3000 bc retrieved from a strange cache, a time capsule, found ‘secreted under an inner 

threshold step’. 35 Of particular note are the so called ‘Seated Goddess’ and the ‘Venus of 

Malta’. The former, 23.5 centimetres high, 36 has luxuriously corpulent hips, buttocks and 
thighs; her ankles are crossed in front of her - crossing the legs would be impossible for 
a person so fat - and her bulging arms are folded. The Venus of Malta, 13 centimetres 

high and fashioned from clay, 37 has been praised by many observers for its anatomical 

exactness and ‘startlingly realistic style’. 38 Again, the Mother Goddess attributes of huge 
breasts and thighs are unmissable. 

The remaining figures on display are summed up nicely by David Trump: 

Some are standing, naked or wearing only a pleated skirt, others also skirted, seated on some kind of stool, with legs 
to the front, yet others naked with the legs tucked up to one side. One or both arms are usually across the chest, the 
other may hang at one side. 0 


Origins in the Palaeolithic? 

I have never visited any of the painted caves of Palaeolithic Europe - Lascaux, Chauvet, 
Laussel, Peche Merle, Lespugue, Altamira, Cosquer, and dozens upon dozens of other 
sites - although I still hope, in this lifetime, to have the opportunity to do so. The 
majority are permanently closed to the public with no possibility that they will ever be 
reopened and in some cases, as at Lascaux, there is even a long waiting list for access to 
the (apparently rather good) walk-through model that has been built near by. But I 
recoil at the idea of touring a model and don’t think it is necessary to do so, or even to 
be an ‘expert’ on the extraordinary artistic achievements recorded inside these caves, to 
recognize that the Venus figures found there - dating back as far as 30,000 bc - do bear 
close comparison to the big-breasted, big-hipped Venuses of Malta, the ‘Fat Ladies’ 
represented again and again in the megalithic temples, and the Sleeping Ladies of the 
supposedly Neolithic Hypogeum. 

My choice of the word ‘supposedly’ here is deliberate. The Hypogeum is supposedly - 
not definitely - a Neolithic structure. 

However, it has been assumed to be Neolithic since its discovery and has been 
regarded as securely dated - to between 3600 and 2500 bc - since the introduction of 

calibrated radiocarbon-dating more than a quarter of a century ago. 40 The habit of 
viewing it in the Neolithic time-frame is therefore deeply ingrained and not a single 


scholar within the mainstream has considered the alternative possibility that is 
suggested by the Mother Goddess figures, the cave-like subterranean labyrinth, the use 
of red ochre and black manganese pigment - and many other curious and notable 
features. This is the possibility that the Hypogeum, or parts of it, as well as the ideas 
and symbolism it enshrines, might have been misdated to the Neolithic 5000 years ago - 
might in fact date back to the Palaeolithic more than 10,000 years ago. 

It is thanks solely to the efforts of three determined Maltese scientists, all medical 
doctors with a deep and abiding ‘amateur’ interest in prehistory, that this electrifying 
possibility, brushed under the carpet for a century, is today on the agenda for serious 
discussion. 

Anton Mifsud is senior consultant in Paediatrics at Saint Luke’s Hospital, Malta, and 
President of the Prehistoric Society of Malta. His son, Simon Mifsud, is a senior registrar 
in Paediatrics at the Gozo General Hospital. Charles Savona Ventura is a consultant in 
Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Saint Luke’s Hospital, Malta. Together and separately 
they have presented a devastating critique of the comfortable archaeological consensus, 
reported in the last chapter, that the Maltese islands remained entirely uninhabited by 
human beings until around 5200 bc. 

Recently, to their credit, some archaeologists have begun to pay attention and to do 
so publicly. Writing in 1999, for example, Anthony J. Frendo had this to say: 

The earliest human inhabitants on these islands are currently thought to have come here around the end of the sixth 
millennium bc during the Neolithic period. This quasi-dogmatic stance was severely put to the test when Anton and 
Simon Mifsud claimed that this date had to be pushed back to a much earlier period, namely the Palaeolithic. 41 

After reviewing the detailed findings presented in their 1997 book Dossier Malta Frendo 
concludes that the Mifsuds’ claim, though revolutionary, is in fact correct and that their 
work has proved ‘beyond any reasonable doubt’ that human beings were present in 
Malta during the Palaeolithic as early as 15,000 to 18,000 years ago and that ‘Malta’s 

history is thus extended backward by eight millennia’. 42 


Reopening the question of temple origins 

As Frendo is the Head of Department and Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the 
University of Malta, this is no lightweight endorsement. If it is supported by other 
archaeologists - and it becomes broadly accepted that there were indeed humans on 
Malta after roughly 15,000 to 18,000 years ago - then the result, ultimately, can be 
nothing less than a complete rewrite of Maltese prehistory. 

In chapter 18 we will weigh up the hard empirical evidence that underwrites the 
Mifsuds’ case. Meanwhile, I doubt whether archaeologists have yet properly understood 
the ramifications of their profession’s inevitable (and I suspect imminent) official 
adoption of the much earlier date of first human habitation that the Mifsuds propose. At 


any rate, if they have understood, I see no sign of it in the literature other than Frendo’s 
monograph. 

For example, isn’t it obvious, once the presence of Palaeolithic humans in Malta is 
widely acknowledged, that this must force a radical revision of the perspective from 
which the Hypogeum and the megalithic temples like Gigantija, Hagar Qim and 
Mnajdra have traditionally been viewed? For even if further investigation reconfirms 
the conventional wisdom that these great structures were indeed built in the Neolithic 
between 5600 and 4500 years ago, the proof of a Palaeolithic presence in Malta must 
raise question-marks over the obviously sophisticated and well-developed architectural 
heritage that all the temples incorporate and express from the outset. It would no longer 
be entirely safe, or logical, to look exclusively outside Malta for the origins of the skills, 
knowledge and ideas invested in them - e.g. as part of the intellectual baggage carried 
by the presumed first settlers (the so-called ‘Stentinello culture’, thought to have arrived 

from Sicily 7200 years ago). 4: On the contrary, an accepted Palaeolithic presence would 
raise the possibility that the temple heritage was not an import from Sicily but was 
instead the product of very long in situ development in Malta itself - perhaps in parts of 
Malta that have so far evaded detailed archaeological scrutiny and particularly in areas 
that have been submerged by the sea. 

This is emphatically not to suggest that the wave of Neolithic settlement which 
archaeologists have detected in Malta around 7200 years ago did not occur - because it 
certainly did! It is to suggest instead a parallel hypothesis (my own, not the Mifsuds’, I 
hasten to add) that when Neolithic settlers first entered Malta from Sicily 7200 years 
ago they may have encountered the remnants of a much older, pre-existing culture 
which possessed and gradually passed on the secrets of how to build and align the 
temples. 

Let’s not even dignify such wild speculation with the label ‘hypothesis’. Still it seems 
to go some way towards resolving the paradox noticed by David Trump that ‘though 
building in stone was introduced to Malta by the first settlers ... the use of huge blocks, 

so-called megalithic architecture, is not known before the temple period’. 44 Could this be 
because the stone-working culture of the ‘first settlers’ was fundamentally different, and 
inferior, to an architectural tradition that already existed in Malta before their arrival 
and which was the true author and ancestor of the Maltese megalithic temples? 


17 / The Thom in the Flesh 


We amateur archaeologists do it for the love of it, and the excitement and adventure, whereas the so-called 
professionals are caught up in the ruts of the establishment. Above all, they have no right at all to claim any 
monopoly of interpretation. 

Anton Mifsud, July 2001 1 


Malta, 16 June 2000 

Anton Mifsud is in his early fifties, of medium build, olive-complexioned, heavily 
tanned, with a lot of experience and humour and a nice combination of strength, 
tolerance and intelligence in his face. He is exceptionally open-minded and lateral¬ 
thinking by nature - telling me once that he didn’t automatically dismiss any idea, even 
if it seemed absurd. The point, he said, was to submit problems in history and prehistory 
to rigorous inquiry, find out the facts about them and then draw the conclusions 
indicated by those facts. 

I first met Anton on 16 June 2000 when he signed my already much annotated copy 
of his explosive little book Dossier Malta. Just two days previously, on the 14th, I’d 
concluded that I wasn’t going to throw any more money into diving off Sliema. We’d 
looked, it hadn’t worked, the temple didn’t exist, and Malta didn’t love me. 

Then on the 15th I met Joseph Ellul and read Commander Scicluna’s letter. So by the 
16th, when Anton Mifsud came to visit me at the seafront apartment Santha and I had 
rented in Sliema, I was already more upbeat about the prospects of an underwater 
discovery than I had been for several months. I’d also recently acquired and carefully 
read Dossier Malta and begun to digest the implications of Mifsud’s research, hitherto 
unknown outside Malta. 

Accompanying Anton that day was Charles Savona Ventura, with whom he has co¬ 
authored several books. He’s a big bear of a man who looks like a Mexican bandit and is 
a mine of information about Maltese prehistory. 

How, I found myself wondering, had these two obviously busy and successful 
consultants in hospital medical practice managed to keep their day jobs and learn so 
much about the past as well? Because clearly they were not just interfering ‘amateurs’ in 
the world of archaeology ... You only had to listen to them for two minutes to realize 
that they knew their stuff. 


Malta: echoes of Plato’s island 
Malta, 16 June 2000 

As the conversation unfolded, Mifsud and Ventura got round to telling me about the 
latest slice of provocative unorthodox prehistory they were working on -Malta: Echoes of 


Plato’s Island - which would argue that Malta is a remnant of the lost island of Atlantis. 

‘You’re not going to like our date for the flood, though,’ said Mifsud, who had read 
Fingerprints of the Gods, in which I first began to set out my case for a lost civilization 
destroyed at the end of the Ice Age more than 12,000 years ago - a lost civilization of 
the Palaeolithic, in other words. 


MALTA 


F1LFLA 


‘Why won’t Hike it?’ 

On the one hand, Mifsud explained, he had strengthened and added to his evidence 
for a human presence in Malta during the Palaeolithic in the three years since the 
publication of Dossier. On the other, however, his new research for Echoes (with Charles 
Savona Ventura and two other co-authors) had led him to a distinctly non-Palaeolithic 
date for the deluge that he believed had destroyed a formerly much larger Malta - the 
prehistoric Malta that was, in his scenario, the source of the Atlantis myth. 

Reduced to its barest essentials, Mifsud’s proposal is that a great land-bridge that once 
joined Malta to Filfla collapsed cataclysmically through faulting of the submarine 

Pantelleria Rift at around 2200 bc . 3 He links this event, which would have generated 
massive tidal waves capable of flooding the entire archipelago, to the sudden demise of 
the temple-building culture that is well attested in Malta’s archaeological record at the 

end of the third millennium bc . 4 And, in an elegant argument, he suggests that it was 
this lost megalithic culture, and its overnight destruction by earthquakes and floods 
c.2200 bc, that was recorded in ancient Egyptian annals, passed on to the Greeks, and in 

later times remembered as ‘Atlantis’. 5 Mifsud points out that the relative chronologies 
for ancient Egypt and Atlantis given by Plato - with the latter said to be a thousand 

years older than the former 5 - coincide with the relative chronologies for ancient Egypt 
and Malta (the former began to build with megaliths in the Pyramid Age c.2600 bc; the 
latter began to build with megaliths a thousand years earlier at Gigantija, c.3600 bc). 

‘You’re quite right,’ I told Anton after I’d thought through his reasoning, ‘I don’t like it 
at all.’ 

As he looked at me expectantly, I raised my left hand and began to enumerate the 
counter-arguments on my fingers. 




‘Firstly, there’s the issue of the relative chronology. To make your argument work - I 
mean about the megalithic civilization of Malta being a thousand years older than the 
megalithic civilization of ancient Egypt - you have to buy into the orthodox 
archaeological datings for both places. But you ought to be the first to know that 
orthodox archaeological datings may not always be correct. In the case of Egypt we 
have actual structures, such as the Sphinx and the megalithic temples beside it, which 

may be much older than the third millennium bc 7 - I’m sure you’re familiar with the 
debate. There’s the megalithic stone circle at Nabta, 200 kilometres west of Abu Simbel, 

which is at least 7000 years old. 8 And then there are the accounts of the ancient 
Egyptians themselves - the Abydos King List, the Turin Papyrus a